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FAO announces Brazilian food purchase plan for Africa

In a move that could be interpreted as a challenge to the American system of providing domestically-raised food aid shipped to needy countries, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization announced that the Brazilian government is providing $2.38 million for a new local food purchase program to be set up by FAO and the World Food Program, the U.N. food distribution agency, to benefit farmers and vulnerable populations in five African countries – Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger and Senegal.

Under an agreement signed in Rome Tuesday, Brazil will fund the project, as well as share expertise drawn from its own national Food Purchase Program, which buys agricultural products from smallholders and delivers them to at-risk categories, including children and youth through school feeding programs.

The Food Purchase Program is “a cornerstone” of Brazil’s Zero Hunger strategy, FAO said. Jose Graziano da Silva, the new director general of the FAO, was one of the architects of that program.

Under the agreement, FAO will receive $1.55 million to help farmers provide seeds and fertilizer and boosting the capacity of small-scale farmers and farmers’ associations to grow, process and sell their produce. FAO will also mobilize Brazilian expertise in support of local purchase initiatives. WFP will receive $800 000 to organize the purchase and delivery of the food to schools and vulnerable groups.

The United States is the biggest contributor to the World Food Program, but almost all that food comes either through commodity donations or purchases of U.S. food products. Critics of the current U.S. food aid system such as Oxfam and Bread for The World said last week that the U.S. government should provide more assistance to farmers in poor countries to increase production and should buy more food for food aid in those countries.

U.S. farm and humanitarian groups have said that the U.S. government has to be careful that food aid it distributes is safe to eat.