UK grocer Sainsbury‘s is launching a GBP1m (US$2m) fund aimed at enabling farmers in developing countries to join Fairtrade initiatives.

The Sainsbury’s Fair Development Fund will be administered by the charity Comic Relief. The retailer said it hoped the fund would provide a “major boost to the livelihoods of producers, especially in Africa, who are not yet participating in the Fairtrade system”, allowing them to find new routes to market that give them a better deal.

The fund will be kick-started with an initial commitment from Sainsbury’s of GBP1m, which will be used to support a number of Fairtrade initiatives over the coming four years.

“The new fund will help to dramatically extend the benefits Fairtrade creates to more farmers and workers in new areas, which have previously not been Fairtrade accredited,” said Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King.

Harriet Lamb, chief executive of the Fairtrade Foundation, said: “Too many smallholder groups, especially in Africa, want to support themselves by selling their products as Fairtrade but they need assistance to get started. This fund will help fill that gap – by supporting farmers’ groups to meet Fairtrade standards or improve the quality of their crops.

Sainsbury’s has also announced that from now on it will only stock Fairtrade bananas.

The amount of money spent on Fairtrade products soared by 41% in 2006, according to the latest figures from the sector.

Consumers worldwide spent EUR1.6bn (US$2.2bn) on Fairtrade goods last year, with cocoa, coffee, tea and bananas showing robust growth.