General Mills, Cargill and the U.S. Agency for International Development are significantly upping their investment in a program that aims to increase the efficiency of food production in Africa and, ultimately, alleviate hunger there.

General Mills Inc. CEO Ken Powell is expected Thursday to announce $15 million in new cash and in-kind funding for the nonprofit Partners in Food Solutions program. The investment will be unveiled at the annual World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines.

The $15 million includes nearly $7 million in cash from USAID, and more than $8 million from Golden Valley-based General Mills, Minnetonka-based Cargill Inc. and Dutch nutrition science firm Royal DSM. The corporate contribution includes $2 million in cash; the rest is in services.

"We are really encouraged and excited by the larger support from USAID," Powell said in an interview. "This [partnership] is cool and it works, and I think USAID recognized that and that's why they are giving us more resources."

General Mills and USAID kicked off the effort in late 2010, and the corporate partnership was unveiled in early 2011. The companies aim to transfer their food production expertise to small and medium-sized African food producers, as well as food relief groups.

So far, the partnership says it's worked with 40 processors on over 120 projects in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia, sourcing food from more than 100,000 farmers.

The expanded five-year program is expected to involve 250 food processors and millers in eastern and southern Africa. The three companies plan to collectively contribute 50,000 hours of expertise from employee volunteers.

The firms initially contributed $1.5 million in in-kind services, and provided much of a $2 million cash grant to launch the effort. Also, USAID initially provided a little over $1 million to TechnoServe, a U.S. nonprofit managing the effort in Africa.

The companies and USAID are essentially tripling their commitment to Partners in Food Solutions, which is also aimed at giving African farmers -- many of them small landowners -- better access to markets.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003