Retailers need to incorporate more small scale farmers into their supply chains, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan said at the NRF conference in New York today.

In speaking about global development, Annan said the increasingly global nature of retail means businesses often have central roles to play in fostering prosperity in the developing world.

He said: “I think the retail industry has an important role to play. We live in a world where the population is growing very fast, and we need to create millions of jobs to keep young people busy.

“There are areas where retailers can play a role by bringing small and individual businessmen and women into their supply chain. If all these famers are pulled into the chain they improve their own living conditions but are also able to supply their society.”

He added retailers entering new markets should research local suppliers carefully. “Retail should do research on what the needs of societies are - what can be sourced locally and what can be imported. We have a tendency to bring everything in from abroad and sometimes the people on the ground feel they are not contributing,” he said.

“I believe one should start with serious analysis of what is required. You don’t walk into a situation and behave as if you know better than the natives.”

Annan said Africa is attracting more foreign investment. Six out of the ten fastest growing economies in the world are currently African, including Mozambique and Ghana. Parts of the continent would be good manufacturing bases, he added.

He said: “I’m surprised countries have not exploited it so far. It is a good location and close to Europe. There are lots of bright young men and women who have studied in the US and Europe who are going back. Plus there are now better macroeconomic policies.”