On first Africa visit, new UN agency chief pledges to optimize food purchases

On first Africa visit, new UN agency chief pledges to optimize food purchases

Making her first trip to Africa since becoming the head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) earlier this month, Josette Sheeran today called for joint actions to ensure that food aid purchases can help poor farmers to access markets and assist in solving chronic food insecurity.

Making her first trip to Africa since becoming the head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) earlier this month, Josette Sheeran today called for joint actions to ensure that food aid purchases can help poor farmers to access markets and assist in solving chronic food insecurity.

“I am convinced that strategically directed local purchase can benefit not only the hungry, but also poor farmers producing food,” said Ms. Sheeran, speaking to a wide variety of economists, traders and market experts at two round-table discussions in Addis Ababa.

“Food security requires access to food and sustainable production of food,” she added.

Starting her three-country trip to the Horn of Africa with a visit to the Ethiopian capital’s central grain market, Ms. Sheeran talked with many kinds of business people, from farmers selling a few sacks of wheat carried on the backs of their donkeys to traders dealing in tens of thousands of metric tons.

She noted that WFP has a “huge market presence” with its cash-based purchases in Africa. The agency today buys 20 times more in Ethiopia than it did in 1990, last year purchasing $37 million worth of grain from the country.

“We’re hoping to take a more strategic look at our purchases to see that we are doing all we can to have the maximum positive impact on development,” the WFP chief said.

Ms. Sheeran, who told the grain market experts that her intent in coming to Ethiopia was to “listen and learn,” said WFP is determined to create a “virtuous circle of food security” – from the small-scale farmers to the ultimate beneficiaries of food assistance.

She met today with Deputy Prime Minister Addisu Legesse and is scheduled to meet tomorrow with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. On Wednesday, Ms. Sheeran travels to Sudan, where WFP has its largest operation.