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A senior Official at the World Food Program says a pilot project in 21 developing countries, including 15 in Sub-Saharan Africa, to alleviate hunger is showing promising results. In an exclusive interview with VOA, WFP Deputy Executive Director Sheila Sisulu, says the farmers' associations involved in the project are starting to profit from the sale of their produce.
The World Food Program says the issue of food insecurity has become more complex and tackling food emergencies also has become more complex.
WFP says recent food crises have been triggered as much by high fuel and high food prices as by drought. It notes food shortages continue to be a problem in many parts of the world. But, very often, it notes food is available in the markets, but people cannot afford to buy it.
WFP Deputy Executive Director Sheila Sisulu is responsible for the office of hunger solutions. She tells VOA that a year ago, WFP began a pilot project, which uses the agency's purchasing power to encourage small-holder farmers to grow more.
"We work with small producers who are mainly women by purchasing from their associations food and commodities that we distribute within the country or within the region," said Sisulu.
Sisulu says WFP uses the expertise of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development to advise the farmers on the best seed and fertilizers to use. They also teach them about the quality standards they must meet to be able to sell their produce to WFP.
"By focusing on those small holder farmers, we hope to break the cycle of these farmers selling cheap after harvest and buying dear during the lean season," she said. "When their produce is more and is of high quality, they sell more and they sell high. And, when they have to buy during the lean season, they actually have more in store, but they can afford to buy if they need to."
The World Food Program tends to purchase food from local producers. This past year, WFP spent almost $400-million buying food and services in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Sisulu says for now, WFP is the main buyer of the goods produced by the farmers participating in the pilot project. But, she says the aim is to help them find other markets as well.
"The view is that we can assist them to build up their standards and, we have seen in some cases, that we cease to become their principle buyer because then their produce can go to East Africa if they meet the standards of the East Africa Trade requirements," said Sisulu. "And if it is a farmer in Uganda, they have access to that market or a farmer in South Africa, they have access to that market because now they can meet those standards."
The pilot project is being funded by an $80-million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard Buffet Foundation. It will run for five years. Sisulu says it is likely to be expanded at that time, if the current project proves to be successful.