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WFP Food Procurement Chief Praises India For 'Humanitarian Exception'

WFP was able to feed many more hungry people in 2008 thanks to India's willingness to sell rice to the organization at well below the market rate, says WFP's food procurement chief Nicole Menage.

WFP bought hundreds of thousands of tons of rice in India last year, at a price which was considerably less than what markets were asking at the time. For Nicole Menage, head of procurement at WFP HQ in Rome, this was one of the most exciting developments of the year. Read News Release

"Thanks to the Government of India, which granted us an ‘exception for humanitarian assistance’, we were able to save around $43 million," she said, adding that India granted the exception despite the extensive export restrictions which were put in place as a result of the high food prices.

Proud of local procurement

The Indian rice purchase is an excellent example of procurement at an international level – where large quantities of food are bought for distribution in a number of countries across the world. But Nicole is also proud of the efforts WFP’s Country Offices made to procure food locally – one of the most efficient ways of getting emergency provisions to our beneficiaries.

“In Georgia we bought just 1,381 tons of food. Yet this purchase of pasta and pulses allowed us to quickly deliver and distribute food to those displaced by the conflict that took place there in August,” she said.

“Again, in Myanmar during the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, we sourced rice locally from areas not affected by the disaster. So successful were our efforts that we actually bought twice as much rice there as we did in 2007.”

Testing year ahead in 2009

Nicole and her team’s successes were achieved against a background of high food and fuel prices, export restrictions or bans, and limited availability in places WFP traditionally buys, such as East Africa. The expectation is that 2009 will be equally testing. Learn more about how WFP procures food

“High food prices, especially at the domestic level in some of the poorest countries, have not gone away. More export restrictions could be hovering on the horizon. Poor harvests due to adverse weather in parts of Africa and Asia could lead to more food-insecurity in those regions. This makes our job harder - but not impossible. When conditions are equal, we always give preference to purchasing from developing countries, and we’ll continue to do so."

Procurement Facts

  • In 2008, WFP bought 2.8 million tons of food, compared to 2.1 million in 2007.
  • Of the 85 countries in which we purchased, 73 were developing.
  • The cost of our purchases almost doubled to US$1.4 billion compared to $767 million in 2007.
  • This reflects the rise in food and fuel prices as well as the increased number of beneficiaries –
  • In 2008, WFP aimed to provide food assistance to 130 million people compared with 86 million in 2007.