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May 19, 2009

World Food Programme makes first local purchase from small-scale farmers

by Henry Neondo

The United Nations World Food Programme has for the first time bought food from small-scale farmers in Kenya under a ground-breaking Purchase for Progress (P4P) initiative aimed at boosting agriculture in Kenya by connecting farmers to markets.

The first P4P purchase by WFP is 45 metric tons of rice from farmers in Ahero in the Kisumu district in western Kenya. The purchase was made possible by the Government of Brazil’s contribution of US$50,000.

“P4P is a win-win situation.” said WFP Country Director Burkard Oberle. “We help support local famers. The rice grown in Ahero will be used in WFP’s operation to assist Kenyans hit by drought."

WFP has purchased food locally in Kenya for many years at the best price, taking into account the cost of transport and shipping. In 2007, 80 percent of food purchased by WFP globally – a record US$612 million -- was brought in 69 developing countries.

The difference under P4P is that WFP now has a committed policy to buy from low-income farmers, who can invest their profits to boost their production and increase food security.

P4P was launched last year in September 2008, but because of high food prices, and drought, WFP was unable to purchase food in Kenya. The new focus of P4P is to buy drought tolerant crops, such as sorghum, millet, green grams, pigeon peas, beans and cow peas, as well as irrigated crops, like rice.

The rice from Ahero is grown in an irrigation scheme that collapsed in the 1990s, but has now been revitalized with the help of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the National Irrigation Board, and other partners. The scheme helps 550 smallholder farmers and a community of 20,000 people to benefit from the production, processing, and marketing of rice.

“The rehabilitation of the irrigation scheme is a good example of how small-scale projects can make a big difference to a community,” said Oberle. “It is imperative we focus on helping more Kenyans to grow their own food rather than giving food assistance in emergencies.”

A key component of P4P is to support farmers to benefit from the value added to their crops by processing them. The cooperative in Ahero has ownership in its own rice mill, so farmers will benefit from the higher prices that come with drying, cleaning, bagging, and marketing the rice directly to large buyers, like WFP.

P4P is a five-year project made possible by contributions from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard Buffet Foundation, and donor governments. They have contributed US$76 million for 21 countries around the world to participate in this innovative programme.

The global target is to significantly increase the income of 350,000 smallholder farmers over five years. Ultimately, the intention is to help low-income farmers access local and regional food markets.

Africa Science News

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