Feeling good with the Ford Foundation

9 April, 2014 by (comments)

Ford Foundation president Darren Walker has a knack for making people feel good about their work. This is a wonderful talent for someone whose job is inspiring and empowering others through philanthropy to help make societies around the world more just and resilient.

During the recent visit of a 10-member Ford delegation to CIAT headquarters near Cali, Colombia, Walker employed this talent to good effect, showing genuine appreciation for what the Center has accomplished over nearly 5 decades as well as keen interest in the challenges that lie ahead for Colombia and other countries across the tropics. Since Ford was one of the Center’s founders, along with the Colombian government and Rockefeller Foundation, the visit had a hint of nostalgia, which Walker captured in these words: “CIAT represents the best of the Ford Foundation’s history.”


Delegates from the Ford Foundation together with CIAT staff and Colombian Agriculture of Ministry officials on 4 April 2014.

But there wasn’t much time for looking back. The Ford delegation focused mainly on CIAT’s new strategy, on the prospects of a long-awaited “peace dividend” for Colombia, and on Ford-supported work at CIAT, aimed at determining how the poor in this and other countries can capture a fair share of growing prosperity. (See the brochure on Ford’s relationship with CIAT, From Inception to Impact: Partners for Food Security and Prosperity.)

About the strategy, Walker had this to say: “It shows that CIAT is strong and innovative – able to evolve and adjust to major changes in the world.”

One particularly important development during recent years has been the restoration of agriculture to its rightful place on national and global development agendas – a trend to which Colombia has been no exception. The country is working hard to bolster its rural development policies, as CIAT Board member and former agriculture minister Juan Camilo Restrepo explained to the group, in anticipation of a possible peace agreement, which would end the country’s 5-decade internal conflict and create favorable conditions for a rural renaissance.

Anibal Fernandez De Soto Camacho, vice minister for rural development in Colombia’s Ministry of Agriculture, described how the government is preparing for this prospect. He outlined a participatory approach focused not just on raising agricultural productivity but on combating rural poverty and meeting basic human needs, particularly among the country’s indigenous groups and Afro-Colombian communities, whose land accounts for about a third of the national territory.

The effectiveness of this approach will depend greatly on the extent to which rural people are able to form beneficial links with markets. Colombia is a pioneer in this respect, having established nearly 2 decades ago policies designed to strengthen key agricultural value chains. With Ford support, CIAT has become a key ally in the process, generating knowledge and methods that enhance the pro-poor power of government policies.

The Center is also helping build a learning framework that will help share lessons from Colombia’s experience with other countries in Latin America. Through other efforts funded jointly by Ford and Kuerig Green Mountain, the world’s largest buyer of fair-trade certified coffee, CIAT scientists are evaluating the impacts of an initiative designed to enhance the livelihoods of smallholder coffee-growing families in Brazil, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Peru (see feature article).

A new CIAT strategic initiative called Sustainable Food Systems for an Urbanizing World will focus on extending the societal benefits of stronger agricultural value chains through measures such as enhanced food quality and reduced food waste.

“CIAT’s work, like Ford’s, is really on the frontier of social change,” said Jean-Paul Lacoste, a senior program officer at the Ford Foundation. “This is one of the reasons for our visit. It is also the right time to be in Colombia, where we have an opportunity, even a moral obligation, to apply what we have learned in recent years for the thousands of small-scale producers living in poverty today and for future generations of Colombians.”

So, there’s plenty to feel good about in the work that Ford and CIAT have undertaken together but also plenty more to do if Colombia and other countries are to get the best that research can offer.

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Filed Under: Inside CIAT