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Public-Private Initiative Launches Aid for Small Farmers

The twin problems of rising food prices and deepening global hunger are forcing many developing countries to ask for help for their farmers. A new public-private initiative is being launched by two of the world's wealthiest businessmen. It aims to help more than 300,000 small farmers and meet a United Nations goal of reducing global poverty by 50 percent in the next decade. VOA's Robert Raffaele has more in this Searching for Solutions report.

In some countries, the rising price of food and increased shortages have fueled riots, as many struggle to find enough to eat.

Farmers in poor nations are also struggling to survive, due in part to climate change and the increasing cost of growing and selling their crops.

This was the focus of a news conference held Wednesday in New York during the United Nations General Assembly.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates and businessman Howard Buffett announced a joint initiative -- along with the U.N's World Food Program -- to increase the incomes of 350,000 farmers in 21 countries.

The program, called Purchases for Progress, seeks to double global food production by 2050.

The $76 million pilot program will focus especially on farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and Central America.

"Ultimately, the goal here is to have these markets be self-sustaining," said Bill Gates, who along with being the founder of Microsoft, heads the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda says the program will help small farmers by allowing them to sell food directly to buyers, through farmers' cooperatives and other arrangements. He says reducing intermediate costs -- such as bagging, transporting, and storage -- will give farmers added incentive to grow their crops.

"The Purchase for Progress program ..because they have a market," Mr. Kagame said. "The Purchase for Progress program is also a direct response to the current food crisis, where farmers are being given [through the program] an incentive [to] produce for the market, [and to] increase [their] productivity because they have a market. "

The U.N.'s World Food Program will use its purchasing power in developing nations to help farmers sell their produce.

Howard Buffett, the son of billionaire Warren Buffett, says the world's richest nations must rise to the challenge before it is too late.

"With less than a third of African agricultural production reaching markets, there's a huge opportunity for this initiative," Buffett said. "With chronic child malnutrition rates as high as 78 percent in the highlands of Guatemala, there must be new solutions to old problems."

Purchase for Progress is one of several public-private initiatives expected to be announced this week in New York.

World leaders gathered at the U.N. General Assembly are focused on drawing attention to the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals. The U.N. hopes to reduce poverty in the world's poorest countries by 2015.