Leading supermarkets met the anti-poverty charity Traidcraft this week after a report into the booming fresh produce industry exposed the "overwhelming lack of trust" Kenyan growers had in retail buyers.
Importers and retailers including Asda, Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury's and The Co-operative Group attended the meeting and said they were looking to improve the way they bought produce from all developing countries.
Traidcraft, which published 'A Fresh Perspective' on Wednesday, said buyers didn't realise the impact they had on growers in developing countries when they made decisions on issues such as produce quality or promotional strategy.
"We weren't expecting the overwhelming evidence of the lack of trust in UK buyers by fresh produce exporters in Africa," said Fiona Gooch, policy adviser at Traidcraft. "This is an issue that needs debate and resolution so buyers and producers can both benefit."
Traidcraft said the importance of a having a secure supply base would grow, as UK vegetable sales were forecast to soar 25% to £3bn a year by 2011.
It highlighted the commercial benefits of treating poor growers fairly and named five areas where improvements were needed: forecasting, contracts with growers, information sharing, the recognition of the value of smallholder farms and the fair implementation of standards.
Traidcraft, which based the recommendations on the experiences of Kenya's small-scale vegetable farmers and exporters, said they applied to growers in all developing countries.
The initiative was welcomed by importers. "Companies are investing a lot of resource in managing their overseas suppliers to reduce technical and reputation risk," said Steve Homer, corporate governance manager at importer Flamingo.
"This initiative focuses on simple actions that can be taken to deliver real benefits and in some cases commercial gains."