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African Cashew and Cocoa Farming Initiative to Reduce Hunger and Poverty.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a campaign to support small-scale cashew and cocoa farming in sub-Saharan Africa to alleviate hunger and poverty. The foundation says its main goal is to help more than 350,000 farmers “increase their incomes so they can build better lives for themselves and their families.” The effort includes foundation grants and other financial support from the private sector, NGOs and local governments. Three experts involved in the program told reporters about what it hopes to achieve.

The foundation’s director of agricultural development, Rajiv Shah, says the Bill and Melinda Gates approach focuses on three simple principles. One is reaching small farmer households, especially the women, since they do most of the work and care for the children. The second principle is increasing the earnings of farm families by improving agricultural production. This goal is accomplished by increasing their earnings through better product quality, packaging and access to markets.

“The third principle is that together with our partners we focus relentlessly on results… We track the incomes earned at the farm level; we track whether children are going to school and whether their nutrition and diets are improving. And ultimately we want to set clear goals and milestones and allow our partners to adjust the specific implementation of the programs in order to reach as many small farm households as possible...and help them move themselves out of poverty and hunger,” Shah says.

Shah also says the foundation has similar investment plans in the coffee and dairy sectors of East Africa. He says the foundation is already helping small-scale farmers sell their crops to the World Food Program.

Bill Guyton, another expert involved with the program, is the president of the World Cocoa Foundation. He says the Gates Foundation partnerships have helped more than 3,000 farmers in 15 countries grow cocoa more productively, profitably and in a way that’s environmentally safe. But he says outdated farming practices and a lack of strong farmer organizations make it hard for farmers to realize their full potential,

“This new program with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation really will help to address some of the problems and look at solutions in the sector. Thanks to this partnership, we’ll be able to dramatically expand our efforts to promote economic and social development as well as environmental conservation in West and Central Africa cocoa-growing communities."

Guyton says the program will teach farmers how to improve their business skills and the quality of their products. He says it will help farming organizations meet the needs of their members, in part by improving their access to information.

Also working with the Gates Foundation is Andreas Proksch, the Africa director of G-T-Z, a German international development group. He says the market has not yet benefited the region’s 2.5 million cashew farmers, most of whom earn less than a dollar a day. He adds that the poor quality of cashews and the uncertain supply discourages food companies, retailers and processors from seriously investing in local cashew farming. But he says with the Foundation’s new Africa initiative, things will change, “Within four years, we have the objective to generate more than 50 percent additional income for around 150,000 small scale farmers through increasing the production yields and the quality of the cashew, as well as through building an African processing sector and stimulating primary market consumer demand.”

Proksch says the project’s vision is to work “from seed to sale” – that is, with all levels of production, marketing and distribution, from the farmer to the government. He says like other Bill and Melinda Gates initiatives, the cashew and cocoa projects emphasize innovation and partnership.