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WFP, Gates and Buffet Foundations Launch Purchase for Progress Initiative

As the United Nations meets on the Millennium Development Goals, rising food prices and global hunger are part of the agenda. Today, a new public-private initiative has been announced to change the way the UN World Food Program buys food in developing countries. VOA’s Joe De Capua reports.

It’s called the Purchase for Progress Initiative – a joint effort by the World Food Program, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffet Foundation.

David Stevenson is the WFP’s director of policy, planning and strategy.

"This year," he says, "the World Food Program is feeding about 90 million people worldwide. And Purchase for Progress is a new, innovative program looking at connecting farmers to markets. It’s new and innovative in part because the world that we’re working in has changed."

Stevenson outlines the challenges facing the UN agency.

"We’re in a post food surplus world, as evident from the food crisis," he says. "Issues of climate change are creating new challenges for us - climate change and response to natural disasters – droughts, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes, issues of civil conflict. And overall, continued challenges that the world has and calls on the World Food Program to assist in, to get food and nutrition assistance to those people who needed it."

The initiative is primarily an agricultural effort to help double global food production by 2050. However, Stevenson says that in many emerging markets there is a lack of adequate incentives for farmers to increase production.

He says, "We will have, for example, forward contracting where we work with the private sector or farmers associations to guarantee a market for one, two or three years, so that farmers can go and get micro credit or to invest in their land. Because without that kind of market, all of the risk is on the small-scale farmers. It’s very difficult for them to make investments when they’re not sure if they’re going to get a return."

Joining the WFP official in launching the Purchase for Progress Initiative is Rajiv Shah, director of agricultural development at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

He says, "In order to succeed, and in order to help farmers and small farmers, in particular, move out of poverty, you need to help them improve their productivity. But you also simultaneously need to improve access to markets and create the financial and commercial incentives, so that farmers are rewarded for their additional efforts."

Also supporting the effort is Howard G. Buffet, president of the foundation that bears his name. He says guaranteeing a market for small-scale farmers in developing countries would have a dramatic effect on livelihoods and lifestyles.

"With less than a third of Ag (agriculture) production reaching markets in Africa," Buffet says, "it just tells you how huge the opportunity is to reach out and to pull people out of poverty and out of this environment of food insecurity and create a situation where they can produce more. They can feed their families better. But they can also sell into a market so that they can have cash and improve their lives."

The Buffet and Gates Foundations are donating tens of millions of dollars to the Purchase for Progress Initiative.