What's Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies Up To Lately? Helping African Farmers, For One Thing

 A farmer in niger

A farmer in niger

When Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies (MACP) announced it was poised to receive a multi-billion-dollar windfall in 2011, this funder joined the list of the largest foundations in the United States. That money—roughly split between the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation and the Anne Ray Charitable Trust, two of the three MACP philanthropies—now puts its assets on nearly the same level as, say, Bloomberg Philanthropies.

It took years to wrestle all of the logistical and legal complications to the ground, but now that the dust has settled, MACP spends some $250 million per year on grants and other programming. But you would hardly know it.

Despite these resources, MACP remains a quiet giant that can be confusing to outsiders, with some programs still in the developmental stage—although its website has slowly filled in more of the blanks lately, while an annual report published last year offered a comprehensive look at its doings. 

While MACP doesn’t draw a lot of attention to how it operates, we’ve noticed over the years that this is a very thoughtful and careful funder—approaching new areas with exceptional due diligence, with veteran foundation officer Terry Meersman guiding the program development. This is also an institution where donor intent is never far from mind; both CEO Christine Morse and President Paul Busch knew Margaret Cargill for years before she passed away in 2006.

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One spot where there's lately been some movement in MACP's work is in its global grantmaking. When it comes to this area, the vast majority of MACP's grants are awarded through the Margaret Cargill Foundation and largely focus on the environment, disaster response, and emergency preparedness efforts. Africa is also a growing interest. 

Over the past few years, the foundation has awarded grants to organizations working in drought-prone regions of Ethiopia, those fighting for farmer’s land rights in Africa, and groups that are building food security. In 2015, MACP staff, along with staff from ActionAid USA and ActionAid International, visited Gambia to assess the Agroecology and Resilience Project, an initiative receiving financial backing from MACP.

Now, the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies has joined with Lutheran World Relief (LWR) and USAID to launch the 12/12 Alliance, a $13 million effort aimed at lifting poor farmers in Niger out of poverty. The 12/12 Alliance is part of LWR's five-year, $41 million anti-poverty initiative in West Africa’s Sahel region.

It isn't surprising that MACP's getting involved with this food security project in the Sahel. It previously awarded LWR a $1 million grant to alleviate the food crisis and help with food insecurity recovery efforts in the Sahel. But MACP's recent involvement with the 12/12 Alliance goes deeper, touching not only on helping smallholder farmers, but women’s empowerment, financial inclusion, and agricultural development—all hot topics among global development funders right now, as we report often. 

The 12/12 Alliance is expected to benefit over 100,000 people, half of whom are women and girls. Also, the initiative is applying complementary solutions to increasing farmers' incomes. This includes the use of mobile technology for access to market information as well as warnings for impending negative weather conditions. The 12/12 Alliance is also training farmers to be “local, village-based extension agents.” These farmers will assist in the development of local farming cooperatives, teach farmers how to increase crop quality and yields, and access sources of credit.

For those not paying much attention, funder support of efforts to help small farmers has really been heating up in recent years. Mobile technology and new approaches to financial inclusion have been key drivers, as we've reported. Meanwhile, the broader stakes of aiding farmers remain as high as ever: Farming is the dominant economic activity of the world's poor and food security issues are only getting more pressing as the world's population heads toward 8 billion.

Niger, as it happens, has one of the fastest rates of population growth on earth. 

Related: Why Major Funders Continue to Back Africa’s Green Revolution