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Wal-Mart Pledges More Purchases from Local Farmers Across the World

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Wal-Mart announced aggressive goals Thursday for improving the way that food is grown and transported across the globe, bringing the weight of the world's largest grocer to an industry that environmentalists say is riddled with inefficiency and waste.

The retail behemoth said it plans to triple the amount of food it sells from small- and medium-size farms in emerging markets such as India and Brazil to $1 billion within five years. In the United States, Wal-Mart vowed to double the sales of locally sourced produce to 9 percent of purchases. And it will begin holding farms accountable for the amount of water, energy, fertilizer and pesticides used to grow food.

"Our size and scale have been big tools for change," Wal-Mart chief executive Mike Duke said in a meeting with employees at the company's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. "There is an opportunity to lead in this area of sustainable agriculture."

The company embarked on a mission five years ago to transform its business - often criticized for its singular focus on low prices despite collateral environmental damage - into an eco-friendly enterprise and to reshape its image. It aimed to use only renewable energy, eliminate waste and sell more sustainable products and to work with some of the same environmental advocacy groups that once criticized the company.

Since then, Wal-Mart has introduced hybrid 18-wheelers that use less fuel and smaller laundry detergent bottles to reduce packaging. It set new environmental standards for its suppliers in China, where regulations are notoriously lax. Last week, it launched a program to recycle the company's used plastic bottles into dog beds sold at its stores.

But Thursday's announcement was the most comprehensive and far-reaching initiative since the original goals were laid out. Wal-Mart began working on the project a year ago with advocacy groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund and the World Wildlife Fund. 
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