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People, institutions, and technology: A personal view of the role of foundations in international agricultural research and development 1960–2010


  • Herdt, Robert W.


In the 1940 and 1950s, the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations initiated overseas rural and agricultural development activities in a number of countries in Asia and Latin America. They began with country programs. These programs often involved creating new institutions in the recipient countries, and while the perspective was long term – as long as it took to achieve program goals – the foundations also explicitly sought to work themselves out of a job and turn over responsibility to nationals. By 1960 the two foundations had moved beyond national assistance programs to invent a new model, the international agricultural research center, designed to improve the lives of poor rural people by increasing the productivity of developing world agriculture. Some of the national programs were morphed into international centers. The international agricultural research centers proved attractive to other donors and by the 1970s international agricultural research had become institutionalized in the form of the CGIAR and its associate centers. The 1960s India agricultural program of the Rockefeller Foundation comprised a team of about a dozen American scientists working in India assisting Indian scientists to invent new approaches to agricultural technology development. At the same time and also in India, the Ford Foundation pioneered the integrated rural development model. By the mid-1970s integrated rural development projects were the approach of choice for many donors. In the 1980s the Ford Foundation moved away from agriculture concentrating on broader social issues; the Government of India and Rockefeller Foundation decided Foundation scientists had, indeed, worked themselves out of their jobs and Rockefeller’s India program was effectively closed down, although by then the international agricultural research centers, including ICRISAT in India, had attained a degree of maturity and stability. The Rockefeller Foundation invented another new model for agricultural research in the 1990s – the international rice biotechnology network, in which leading scientists from Asian countries, Western countries and the international centers worked together within a framework managed by Rockefeller scientists. In 2006, the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation entered the global agricultural scene in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation to establish AGRA, yet another new model. By 2010 the Gates Foundation was annually spending about 10times

Suggested Citation

  • Herdt, Robert W., 2012. "People, institutions, and technology: A personal view of the role of foundations in international agricultural research and development 1960–2010," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(2), pages 179-190.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jfpoli:v:37:y:2012:i:2:p:179-190
    DOI: 10.1016/j.foodpol.2012.01.003

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lele, Uma & Goldsmith, Arthur A, 1989. "The Development of National Agricultural Research Capacity: India's Experience with the Rockefeller Foundation and Its Significance for Africa," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 37(2), pages 305-343, January.
    2. Fan, S., 2008. "Investing in african agriculture to halve poverty by 2015," IWMI Working Papers H041613, International Water Management Institute.
    3. Islam, Nurul, 2011. "Foreign aid to agriculture: Review of facts and analysis," IFPRI discussion papers 01053, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
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    1. repec:eee:ecolec:v:141:y:2017:i:c:p:190-201 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Poole, Nigel D. & Chitundu, Maureen & Msoni, Ronald, 2013. "Commercialisation: A meta-approach for agricultural development among smallholder farmers in Africa?," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 155-165.
    3. Wright, Brian D., 2012. "Grand missions of agricultural innovation," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 41(10), pages 1716-1728.


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