More than 350,000 small-scale farmers in Africa and Central America will soon be selling produce to the UN in an initiative that could transform the way food aid is purchased.

Under a new five-year $76m (£41m) pilot project, the UN’s World Food Programme said it would buy surplus crops from low-income farmers in 21 countries to help boost fragile economies. The food will be used for regional hunger emergencies and safety net schemes, such as school feeding projects.

While the WFP currently buys about 80% of its stocks locally in the developing world, virtually all of it comes from traders and large-scale farmers who can supply significant quantities of staples such as maize, sorghum, and beans.

Charitable foundations established by Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, and Howard Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, are funding the UN project, which targets some of the world’s poorest countries, including Sierra Leone, Malawi, Ethiopia, and El Salvador. It is expected that 40,000 metric tons of food – enough to feed 250,000 people for a year – will be purchased from small-scale farmers in the first twelve months.

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