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The Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development (CIIFAD) was established in 1990 with a generous private gift, initially anonymous, to Cornell University to enable its faculty, students and staff to become more actively engaged with colleagues overseas in formulating solutions to some of the major problems that face humankind: hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, and lack of human and institutional capacities to deal with these.

The mission of CIIFAD, as stated in its charter approved by the Faculty Senate and Board of Trustees in 1990, was to contribute to knowledge generation, human resource development, and institutional strengthening that could help to achieve sustainable agricultural and rural development in the world’s less-developed countries. While Cornell as a university could not function as a development agency, it could improve the knowledge base and human resources for using available resources more productively and more sustainably to reduce hunger and poverty.

The gift provided $15 million over a ten-year period to Cornell to support interdisciplinary, collaborative, problem-focused activities that would improve strategies, policies and practices for sustainable agricultural and rural development, broadly understood. The funding was to enable Cornell faculty, students and staff to engage in such efforts, while also obtaining external funding that would the scale up of university’s involvement in these areas.

Under the terms of the gift, none of the funds were to be used for Cornell faculty salaries. Its contribution of faculty time to CIIFAD activities roughly matched the amount of the gift itself, and the various grants and contracts that CIIFAD received through June 30, 2005 totaled an additional $32.1 million. It was learned in 1997 that CIIFAD’s anonymous benefactor was Charles Feeney ( who in addition to being one of the country’s most generous philanthropists ($8 billion) was also a Cornell alumnus. Because of the additional support mobilized, expenditure of the gift was stretched through the end of 2004.

CIIFAD began publishing detailed annual reports in 1993-94, when collaborative programs had been established in six countries. These reports communicated widely within Cornell and beyond what was being accomplished and learned. These reports documented the knowledge generation, human resource development, and institutional strengthening that CIIFAD’s collaborations with overseas partners were producing.

While CIIFAD was a Cornell institution, with deans from three colleges on its Governing Board, the administration of CIIFAD was supported by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Its dean chaired the Governing Board. The faculty Program Committee over the first 15 years had faculty from the following departments as members: agricultural economics (4), animal science (1); anthropology (2); crop and soil sciences (3); development sociology (2); ecology and systematics (1); government (1); natural resources (1); nutritional sciences (4); plant breeding (2), plant pathology (1), and regional planning (2). The directors of CIIFAD were Norman Uphoff (Government), 1990-2005; Alice Pell (Animal Science), 2005-2010; and Ralph Christy (Agricultural Economics), 2010-2017. In 2017, CIIFAD’s operations were folded into the College of Agriculture and Life Science’s International Programs.


Country or Theme Program


Multi-Disciplinary Evaluation of Indigenous Technology for Sustainability, working with World Neighbors and other organizations to assess viability of ancient ‘raised beds’ cultivation in Lake Titicaca basin (


Sustainable Hillside Farming Systems, with the Pan-American School of Agriculture at Zamorano in Honduras, also government, NGO and academic partners in the region


Integrated Conservation and Development, with UNPHU university and other partners in reconciling ‘parks and people’ conflicts when estab-lishing Los Haitises protected area and needs of adjacent communities


Natural Resource Management and Sustainable Agriculture Partnership, focused on the Greater Afram Plains, with World Vision-Ghana, the universities, district governments, and national ministry, to reverse degradation of large savannah region


Strategies for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development, working with the Center for Agro-Socio-Economic Research of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Agency for Agricultural Research and Development and other partners on a wide range of sustainable development issues.


Integrated Conservation and Development, with SUNY-Stony Brook and Chemonics, helping to implement two USAID-funded projects, focusing on community participation and agroecological approaches, including System of Rice Intensification


Conservation Farming in the Tropical Uplands, working with NGO, universities, government agencies and IRRI, in modifying farming systems for productivity and sustainability


Sustainable Rice-Wheat Farming Systems, in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, working with IRRI, CIMMYT and other organizations


Smallholder Horticultural Production, with University of Zimbabwe and the national extension program, seeking to build up this sector for both income and nutritional objectives

Agriculture and Nutrition

Food Systems for Improved Health, connecting these sectors so that agriculture produces food more for health objectives than just volume


Started interdisciplinary program at Cornell working partners in m any countries; see some of the publications

Farmer-Centered Research and Extension

Started research and teaching on participatory technology and organizational development; still part of Cornell curriculum

Integrated Pest Management

Added international dimension to Cornell’s research and teaching on integrated pest management (IPM)

Management of Organic Inputs in Soils of Tropics

Originally ‘Mulch-Based Agriculture,’ focusing agricultural development more on biological and microbiological aspects of crop production

Soil Health

Started interdisciplinary program at Cornell on this subject