Waitrose, Sainsbury's and The Co-operative Group are among the retailers set to get government funding to increase the number of African goods they import.

The Food Retail Industry Challenge fund is investing £3m in six projects to help food and drink companies import new ranges of tea, coffee and fruit juices from Africa. "Seven out of 10 Africans depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, and the ability to trade with a large UK retailer will make a big difference to farmers across the continent," said development minister Gareth Thomas at the launch this week.

Sainsbury's project, which is set to import Fairtrade coffee from Malawi and Congo, would help farmers raise incomes by reinvesting in agricultural practices to secure better prices, higher yields and more consistent markets, said Sainsbury's head of Fairtrade and grocery technology and development, Liz Jarman.