The government has called on retailers to do more to source fresh produce from Africa and help reduce poverty in the poorest countries.

International development minister Gareth Thomas this week demanded supermarkets engage with African farmers and re-examine their buying habits to incorporate more food from developing countries.

In a move welcomed by retailers, the Department for International Development has set up a £2m fund offering grants for partnership initiatives that bring retailers and African farmers together, with partners expected to match-fund the projects.

Retailers would essentially partner with African farmers to help develop their supply chains, improve production methods and achieve the required certification to supply UK supermarkets.

Supermarkets would be able to bid for funding from consultants Emerging Market Economics, which is managing the scheme. Fruit and veg were likely to be the focus for the first wave of imports, said Thomas, though he stressed it could include many other products. An example of development opportunities may be pineapple growers in Ghana who needed help producing fruit with fewer carbon dioxide emissions. Buying from developing countries made "clear business sense" as it enabled retailers to source quality products that competed on price and met consumers' desire for ethical purchasing, Thomas said.

A BRC spokesman praised the move, adding that it echoed initiatives already put in place by a number of supermarkets. "Giving African producers access to high-value markets in Europe is very important to many suppliers to give them more value for their produce," he said.

Sainsbury's also gave its backing to the scheme, but pointed out that it had launched its own Fair Development Fund last year to help producers in the poorest countries to supply their produce as Fairtrade.