NEW YORK — The Ford Foundation today announced a five-year, $85 million initiative that will make rural and indigenous people a stronger part of the world’s response to climate change, saying that engaging these populations is essential to reducing poverty and building long-term climate solutions.

Focused on six key regions, the initiative will empower rural communities whose livelihoods depend on natural resources to play a more active role in the stewardship of those resources. The foundation will also work with the global organizations, multilateral funders and governments that are set to invest billions of dollars over the coming years in climate change programs that will affect these communities.

“This work heralds a new way of thinking about natural resources and sustainable development. It unlocks the potential for people, especially rural and indigenous communities, to be a part of the solution,” said Luis Ubiñas, president of the Ford Foundation. “As sustainable development programs are ramped up globally, we have the responsibility of ensuring that the people who have historically lived in and preserved forests and natural resources are included in the global dialogue about the future of their lands.”

Foundation officials noted that with some 30 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions coming from the rural sector, the work of engaging rural and indigenous people in sustainable solutions has tremendous implications for efforts to reduce climate change. The foundation’s grants will seek to ensure that global programs to address climate change respect the needs of the rural poor and harness the potential of these populations to design and participate in solutions.

The work represents an alternative to traditional approaches to managing forests, dry lands and other vast tracts of land and resources, which are often based on one of two myths: that such areas are pristine wilderness devoid of people, or that they are wastelands that need to be diverted to industrial uses. With more than 1 billion people in developing countries living in rural areas with fragile ecosystems, Ford intends to highlight the urgent promise of a more innovative approach that focuses on the role of natural assets in generating economic opportunity and empowers rural and indigenous people to continue to act as sustainable stewards of these lands and managers of their own livelihoods.

“We believe that incorporating the voices of the people who live on these lands will bring three positive outcomes: strengthening communities and boosting local economic activity while advancing the health and sustainability of the environment. There is the potential for triple-bottom-line impact from this approach,” Ubiñas said.

This new effort builds on decades of Ford support for projects focused on community-based natural resource management, such as community forestry, that gives communities whose livelihoods depend on forests a chance to generate income from those forests in creative and sustainable ways. It will also help ensure that broader public investment in and management of natural resources to achieve food security and reduce climate change are implemented in a way that is both sustainable and beneficial to rural and indigenous populations.

Working with NGOs, governments, other funders and rural communities themselves, Ford’s grants will help:

  • Develop the advocacy skills of rural leaders so they have a stronger voice in how natural resources are managed
  • Demonstrate successful models of community management of resources and ensure that the lessons of this work are informing national and global policy
  • Promote public investment that benefits rural communities and acknowledges their role as stewards of valuable natural assets
  • Ensure that global climate change programs account for and address the needs of indigenous communities and the rural poor
  • Strengthen institutions and networks that advance this approach

Ford’s grantmaking is focused on low-income populations situated in forests, grasslands, marginal agricultural land and other rural regions in six areas where the foundation maintains a regional office: Brazil, Indonesia, China, East Africa, Mexico and Central America, and India. Rural communities in these areas depend on the natural resources around them for their basic livelihoods, yet most have limited rights to access and utilize them, or suffer from poor levels of public investment to augment returns from their use of these resources.

“We believe that the work we are supporting demonstrates a critical new paradigm: What’s good for rural and indigenous communities is also good for the economy, the environment, and the world,” said David Kaimowitz, the foundation’s director of Sustainable Development. “We want to ensure that the lessons and promise of that work are understood and utilized by global policymakers, governments and other leaders.”

This work is integral to Ford’s contributions to poverty reduction, which includes strengthening the livelihoods of the rural poor and promoting economic security through social policies that promote financial inclusion and reduced vulnerability to shocks.

“All of our work on poverty reduction shows that building assets—not just income—is critical to helping families achieve long-term economic security,” said Pablo Farías, vice president of Ford’s Economic Opportunity and Assets program. “For many rural families, natural resources represent the only asset base available. By innovating the way we manage these resources, we can offer a path out of poverty for millions of people.”

More Information

The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent organization working to address inequality and build a future grounded in justice. For more than 85 years, it has supported visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. Today, with an endowment of $16 billion, the foundation has headquarters in New York and 10 regional offices across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

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