Gates Spotlights WFP Support For Smallholder Farmers

WFP’s Purchase for Progress initiative was in the spotlight at a key food security event in Washington on Tuesday as Bill Gates applauded the programme which works to connect small farmers to markets and WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran underlined the role corporations can play in supporting it.

by Rene McGuffin

WASHINGTON -- Poor farming families must be empowered if we are to be successful in the global fight against hunger and poverty,  said Bill Gates in his keynote address at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Tuesday, capturing a theme that surfaced repeatedly throughout this high-profile one-day event.

The Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation told the story of Odetta, a Rwandan single mother of two who, like three-quarters of the world’s poorest, gets her food and income from farming a small plot of land. Through WFP’s Purchase for Progress (P4P) programme, which provided key training and bought her crops, Odetta has more than quadrupled her income. 

What is P4P?

two farmers picking up piles of wheat

Smallholder farmers in many  developing countries would be able to produce surpluses if only there was a profitable market for those surpluses. Through P4P, WFP is using its demand for basic grains to help farmers to access markets and get a fair price. Learn more

The woman farmer now firmly believes that “farming is wealth,” said Gates at the Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security hosted by the CCGA to review the United States’ progress on its global food security strategy and to explore how to address continuing challenges. 

The event was co-chaired by Catherine Bertini, WFP’s former Executive Director and Dan Glickman, the former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and featured other important speakers, including Bill Gates and WFP’s Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

A historic chance

Since its start less than 3 years ago, Gates noted that WFP’s P4P has already contracted to buy 170,000 metric tons of food from farmers like Odetta and has paid out an estimated $37 million, channeled directly into the pockets of these small-scale farmers.

former executive director speaking into a microphone with bill gates sitting beside herAt a time when the world needs more food, Gates emphasized that “this is the early stage of sweeping change for farming families in the poorest parts of the world. It’s a historic chance to help people and countries move from dependency to self-sufficiency – and fulfill the highest promise of foreign aid.”

In a discussion on boosting private sector involvement in agriculture and nutrition in developing countries, Josette Sheeran highlighted how businesses can be the “follow-on force” that picks up where WFP leaves off in meeting the needs of communities.

Follow-on force

With P4P, for example, WFP supports small farmers to produce high quality food for competitive tendering and later private companies can step in to buy that food, she said.

In a similar way, there are enormous opportunities for corporations to help poor communities become more healthy, Sheeran added, both by acting as a “follow-on force” but also by helping to “connect knowledge with innovation” and through “burden sharing”.

By deploying corporate technology and know-how, new approaches to age-old problems will result in a win-win situation for both the developing countries and the businesses, she stressed.

In 2010, WFP partners supported projects in 58 of the 74 countries in which WFP operates and have played a “big role in taking some of the burden we face”,  Sheeran noted.