Serving as a Catalyst for the Funding Community

This is the second part in our two-part interview with David Kaimowitz ,director of Sustainable Development at the Ford Foundation and its natural resource and climate work. To read the first part, a discussion of the reasoning and goals behind the Ford Foundation’s new initiative to address climate change through the inclusion and empowerment of rural and indigenous people, see: Strengthening Rural Communities and Improving Conservation.

How does improved land tenure impact the economy? What is the role of the private sector in helping to conserve and develop natural resources in a way that will benefit the most people?

"It is important to target the poorest and most marginal regions, with high percentages of ethnic minorities, and to pay particular attention to the needs of women." (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

When people have secure land tenure they tend to invest more and make longer-term investments. That is good for the economy. It also tends to encourage more sustainable natural resource management. Farmers are more likely to plant trees and perennial crops and conserve their soil and water, if they know that they’re the ones that will benefit. (Although in some circumstances, paradoxically, secure land tenure may also promote long-term investments in less environmentally-friendly activities, such as clearing forest for cattle ranching or oil palm plantations.)

Secure land tenure does not necessarily mean having a formal title. Informal land rights are often just as good, as long as people generally respect them. In fact, some land titling projects have actually undermined land tenure security, by provoking conflicts over land or creating uncertainty about the validity of pre-existing informal rights to land

One needs to be careful when using the term “the private sector”. When people talk about “the private sector” they typically think of large private companies, but small farmers and community enterprises are also part of the private sector. That being said, large private companies can play crucial roles in helping small farmers and community enterprises process and market their products. This can be particularly beneficial if they do this as part of fair trade initiatives that ensure that the companies meet a set of social and environmental standards, and that there are clear mechanisms for dialogue between the companies and communities. Fortunately, Fair Trade markets are growing very rapidly, and involve an increasingly wide variety of products.

What is an example of a project that the Foundation has included in its new funding initiative focused rural land access? Where is the project located, what are its goals, and how many people will it impact?

The largest single project the Foundation is supporting related to this is the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI). RRI is an international alliance of ten global, regional, and national organizations that have joined together to promote greater community rights to forests. It includes grassroots organizations, such as the Federation of Community Forest Users of Nepal (FECOFUN) and the Coordinating Association of Indigenous and Community Agroforestry in Central America (ACICAFOC), NGOs like the Civic Response in Ghana and the Forest Peoples Program (FPP), based in the UK, and research organizations such as the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) in Kenya. Ford’s grant to RRI supports research, policy dialogues, training, and communications activities designed to promote community rights, both at the global level and in about one dozen high priority countries. By influencing the policies of major global donors such as the World Bank and the European bilateral donors and government policies in countries such as China, Liberia, Bolivia, and Nepal, the initiative hopes to affect the lives of literally millions of people.

At the same time the foundation also supports smaller projects in individual countries. In Brazil for example, we are working with government agencies, universities, grassroots organizations, and NGOs to support greater recognition of the rights of Afro-descendent communities (called Quilombolas) in the Brazilian Amazon. In Kenya and Uganda we have been supporting the National Land Alliances, which are working to promote tenure reforms that give greater rights to women, pastoralists, displaced peoples, and ethnic minorities, among others. Since most of the project’s Ford funds through this initiative are designed to promote better policies, they can potentially affect large numbers of people, with relatively small investments.

Where would you like to see more funding directed? How would you like to see this initiative develop in the future?

It is important that the major global donors such as the World Bank, the regional development banks, and the main bilateral donors devote more attention to ensuring community rights to forests, mountainous areas, grasslands and arid lands, aquatic resources, and low fertility croplands. That is where many of the world’s poorest people live and they depend heavily on those resources for their survival. Private foundations such as Ford definitely don’t have enough funds to take on this issue alone. Indeed our most important role is to serve as catalysts to get the large donors and national government agencies to take these issues up.

One particular area that deserves much more attention than we are able to give it at this point is the defense of the human rights of grassroots activists that promote greater community control over natural resources. These activists are often threatened, imprisoned, or even killed by groups and individuals that feel threatened by their work, and much more needs to be done to defend them from repression and harassment.

How can the funding community ensure that it is addressing the needs of those most in need? How does the Ford Foundation makes sure that the projects it supports are actually helping the people they are intended to help?

It is important to target the poorest and most marginal regions, with high percentages of ethnic minorities, and to pay particular attention to the needs of women. Within that context it is also important to recognize that even in very poor communities there can be major differences in wealth and power and not allow the more well-off groups to get all of the benefits. That is not easy to do, but funders really need to make an effort. It is also important to strike a reasonable balance between working with and through governments and through civil society organizations. Each has important roles and cannot substitute for the other.

The Ford Foundation works to ensure its’ projects reach the people they are intended to help by having field offices in many of the countries we work in and hiring Program Officers with extensive experience in low-income rural communities. We regularly monitor our projects and do studies to learn from our experiences.

What is the role of the funding community in the alleviation of hunger and poverty, worldwide? How do you think the funding community could better direct its resources towards achieving this goal?

The main reason that hunger and poverty continue to exist in the world is that governments and large private companies tend to respond more to the needs of better off groups, which are better organized and have more resources at their disposal. We will probably never be able to change that situation entirely, but we can help to partially level the playing field by supporting groups that can effectively represent the interests of low-income people, ethnic minorities, women, and other traditionally marginalized groups. The Ford Foundation sees itself as making a modest but significant contribution to that effort, but it is essential that more and more donors in the funding community join those efforts.

Go to Source