24 September 2008


24 September 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


Announcing a partnership determined “to put hunger out of business”, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) unveiled a groundbreaking initiative to help poor farmers in the developing world -- reeling from the triple shock of global food, fuel and financial crises -- raise their incomes.

The new initiative, Purchase for Progress, or “P4P”, announced at a Headquarters press conference this morning, joins WFP, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation in connecting hundreds of thousands of farmers to reliable markets, where they could sell their surplus crops at competitive prices, thereby increasing their profits and bolstering fragile local economies.  The scheme would also transform the way WFP purchased food in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and Central America.

“This is a revolution in food aid where food aid becomes a productive investment that not only feeds today but produces solutions for tomorrow,” said WFP Executive Director, Josette Sheeran.

For farmers in the developing world, the project came not a moment too soon, she said.  “Purchase for Progress has the power to transform their lives […] and allows them to break the cycle of poverty and hunger at its root.”

Together with the Government of Belgium, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation have committed $76 million to fund 21 pilot projects in a variety of market environments across the developing world.  Designed to evaluate how food purchases could be an economic catalyst and force multiplier, rather than a stop-gap measure, the pilot programmes would study how the use of a guaranteed sale system could provide the kind of income security that would allow farmers to purchase the inputs -– such as fertilizers, seeds and equipment -– needed to harvest more.  WFP would then extend those models to the entire food aid apparatus.

Ms. Sheeran was joined today by Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda; Jakaya Kikwete, President of the United Republic of Tanzania and Chairman of the African Union; Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda; Sandra Torres de Colom, First Lady of Guatemala; Howard G. Buffett, Chairman of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation; and Bill Gates, Chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Mr. Gates said his foundation “very much believes that helping small farmers is key to our mission of reducing inequity”.  “Allowing them to participate in these markets is a real win-win.  It will increase the supply of food and it will increase the well-being of these farmers.”

He said the ultimate goal was for those markets to be self-sustaining to benefit millions of families in the developing world on an ongoing basis, thereby having a measurable impact on Millennium Development Goal 1, eradicating poverty and hunger.

Mr. Buffett, who had been named an Ambassador against Hunger by WFP last year, emphasized that agricultural development was the most effective way to tackle poverty in the developing world.  Many subsistence and small-scale farmers could benefit substantially from even the smallest improvements.  Moving them from net buyers to net sellers was one of the initiative’s main objectives.  By encouraging small farmers to increase their production, the P4P programme would create opportunities for them to lift themselves out of poverty.

The Howard G. Buffett Foundation’s contribution sought to expand its work in conflict and post-conflict societies, he said.  It would support P4P in some of the toughest environments with the most vulnerable and marginalized populations, such as in Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Sudan.  It would also focus on Central America, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras, in order to learn from a regional approach.

Noting the host of problems weighing down agricultural productivity in the African continent, Mr. Kikwete said the beauty of P4P was its focus on unlocking some of those constraints.  It would provide a certain market for surplus products, finally giving African farmers the incentive to increase production.

Testifying to the multifaceted assistance already provided by WFP to countries like his, Mr. Kagame outlined the potential structural impact of the current initiative.  It would not only fight food insecurity and household vulnerability by providing local food on a short-term basis, but, by creating incentives to raise production, it would give farmers the opportunity to take advantage of rising food prices.

Mr. Museveni noted that the problem in Uganda was not food production -– its farmers produced foods easily.  Rather, they had no market.  Because the current initiative would help those farmers transform their subsistence farming into commercial farming, the scheme would couple food security with income security.  That was the real sign of food security: only when the poor had enough money in their accounts to buy food when they needed it could it be said they had escaped hunger.

Noting that half of Guatemala’s children suffered from malnutrition, Ms. Torres de Colom emphasized the linkages between the initiative’s benefits to individual farmers and its larger potential impact on rural development.  Empowering women farmers, however, should be incorporated into the World Food Programme’s plans.

Responding to a question on how the money for the initiative would be spent, Ms. Sheeran stressed it would not pay for food, but would underwrite the first ever study to identify the types of contracts that were most beneficial to local agricultural development.  In addition, WFP -– which was typically prohibited from committing to long-term contracts with farmers -– would present the study’s results to its Board, in an attempt to reverse that policy.

She added that WFP had worked with each Government and with regional organizations like the African Union to tailor the different models to their individual communities.  In the end, it would change the way it did business by helping farmers increase their yields so that they no longer required any food assistance.

To a question about whether, despite intentions, that type of philanthropy actually fostered hunger rather than eradicated it, Mr. Gates pointed out that the amount of food produced today was much greater than that of hundreds of years ago.  The challenge remained getting that food out equitably to everyone.  Systems like the ones Purchase for Progress was promoting –- in which more markets would be operating -– could truly succeed in feeding the world.

“This money is being spent because it improves the human condition,” he said.  “I see a positive trend in terms of health and nutrition, and I’m pleased to be a part of that.”

Mr. Kikwete added that to assume that a gift like that was perpetuating hunger was a big misconception.  He saw a lot of sense in taking people out of a situation in which they needed food aid and putting them on a footing in which they could feed themselves.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.