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Winrock International

The International Agricultural Development Service

Winrock founding organization launched a 'multi-pronged attack on rural poverty in the developing world.'

A Winrock Legacy Story

The International Agricultural Development Service (IADS) was created by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1975 to build a bridge between agricultural research and practice in the developing world. In 1985, IADS, the Agricultural Development Council (A/D/C) and the Winrock International Livestock Research and Training Center merged to create Winrock International. We are grateful to all three of our founding organizations.

By Barry Goldberg, Ph.D., Research Fellow, Rockefeller Archive Center

The Rockefeller Foundation (RF) entered the 1970s motivated to further strengthen its agricultural program. Three decades earlier, the Foundation had initiated the Green Revolution when it launched the Mexican Agriculture Program (MAP). By the 1950s, MAP developed the research, methods and technology to drastically raise maize and wheat yield in Latin America and Asia. After the Foundation took similar programs to scale in Colombia and Chile, it established four international institutes to promote wide knowledge sharing and help countries leverage Green Revolution technology on a global scale: the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in 1959, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in 1963, and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in 1967. Collectively, these new bodies became key components of the RF’s Toward the Conquest of Hunger program, initiated in 1963 by RF President George Harrar to alleviate the twin threats of overpopulation and starvation in the developing world. In 1971, these institutes became an even more permanent fixture on the international scene when they joined together to form a new entity, the Consultative Group on International Agriculture (CGIAR), a global network of agricultural research and aid organizations supported by the World Bank and United Nations.

As these events unfolded, however, commentators sought to understand why some individuals and geographic regions had been left behind by the Green Revolution. These critics argued that while MAP-like programs had increased yield on a global basis, they had not substantially improved life for poorer farmers in developing countries, many of whom lacked the financial means to purchase new technology and lived in remote areas without adequate infrastructure and extension services. To address these challenges, the RF began to craft new interdisciplinary approaches that aimed to not only develop new plant research, but also improve entire agricultural systems on a country-by-country basis. These programs integrated the humanities and social sciences with traditional agricultural science and, as such, examined the social, political and economic conditions under which farmers worked.

The agricultural program that most exemplified this interdisciplinary campaign was the International Agricultural Development Service (IADS). Formed in 1975, IADS was the RF’s ambitious attempt to help small farmers attain food security in the developing world and widen the benefits of the Green Revolution.

Creating IADS

Since the end of World War II, the RF and the wider international aid community had identified overpopulation as one of the most serious threats to food security in the developing world. To meet the needs of these countries’ rapidly growing populations, the RF abandoned the single-nation approach pioneered in MAP and instead aimed to maximize yield by forming large international research centers capable of working across national boundaries.

But by the 1970s, RF leaders realized that too many developing nations still did not produce enough food to sustain their exploding populations. While the research institutes had developed new varieties of rice, corn and wheat, many countries grew a wider variety of non-staple crops, and lacked the personnel and infrastructure to access new agricultural inputs. As a result, millions in the developing world still lacked adequate food supplies. “Important as they are,” conceded Sterling Wortman, the RF vice president who had helped launch IRRI and CIMMYT, the research institutes “could not be depended upon to stimulate increases in production, country by country, that were so necessary.”1

Wortman believed a new program was needed to build a bridge between the research institutes and agriculture in practice on the ground. He began formulating such a program during conversations with Ford Foundation Vice President Frosty Hill and others at CGIAR meetings in 1972 and 1973. After further discussions with leading agriculturalists, including John A. Pino, director of the RF Agricultural Sciences Division, Wortman wrote a proposal outlining IADS.

Wortman, who would become the first president of IADS, envisioned the agency as a large-scale technical assistance organization that would launch a multi-pronged attack on rural poverty in the developing world. In his 1975 proposal, Wortman outlined the broad spectrum of activities IADS would help countries undertake: developing and supplying new farm technology, training scientists, building better infrastructure, strengthening extension services, planning long-term strategic goals and projects, working with outside donor agencies, and crafting policy. By adapting to each country’s distinct profile of needs and by working broadly on various issues, IADS aimed to attract support from other foundations, governments, individuals and industries, thereby gathering the necessary resources to render it a kind of “onestop shop” for the developing world’s agricultural needs.

After receiving backing from the international aid community at another high-level meeting at the Bellagio Center, IADS was formally incorporated by New York State in June 1975. Soon thereafter, the Foundation appropriated $100,000 for the agency and pledged to provide an additional $7-8 million in funds over the next five years. To increase the operational capacity of IADS, the RF also housed the agency, and provided it with scientific personnel and new board members. This in- kind support was crucial in providing IADS the resources, time and space to demonstrate its effectiveness.

A New Type of Program

From the get-go, the mission of IADS was driven by the idea that developing countries needed to design and shape their own agricultural programs. The agency explicitly framed itself as a consultancy that would work with, rather than dictate, mandates to local institutions. Wortman’s proposal assumed that North American and European experts lacked scientific and cultural knowledge about the developing world, and that these well-intentioned professionals often crafted strategies that worked better in theory than in practice. For this reason, IADS tried to establish a collaborative and egalitarian relationship with its clients, requiring its staff to report to host country agencies and solely represent local interests in talks with potential funders. The idea was to have IADS field staff “learn along with associated national personnel” as “co-workers” working toward a common goal. “IADS,” Wortman concluded in his proposal, “must not seek to build an empire, but must view its own objective as assisting nations to meet their needs in whatever combination of ways is most sensible and advantageous for the nation.”2 This approach inverted the customary top-down approach of the international research institutes. Farming had to be improved on the local level first, IADS reasoned, to make macroeconomic gains and alleviate the larger threats of global hunger and overpopulation.

But some raised questions about how the agency would actually operate in practice. Of principal concern was that the IADS structure, mission and goals were overly broad and ambiguous. As one anonymous reviewer noted in 1975, IADS tried to address “a kaleidoscope of every international agriculture problem that exists” and lacked “an honest confrontation with the practical realities of getting the over-all job done.” “Millions upon millions of people” would starve, the reviewer predicted, while the agency struggled to implement its lofty, long-term goals.3 Some technical assistance leaders similarly worried that the “scope of IADS interests is too broad, going far beyond its technical and managerial capabilities.”4

In response to these concerns, IADS honed its initial priorities. In the fall of 1976, the Board of Trustees decided the agency would focus first on helping nations develop grant proposals and locate relevant training programs. Eventually, however, IADS reported that countries were increasingly seeking ways to make their research institutions more responsive to farmers’ tangible problems. As a result, “IADS’s own program had expanded considerably” by the end of 1978, emphasizing aid to research institutions for building stronger extension and technology transfer services. As IADS continued to shift its focus from research to development, the agency’s board called for larger efforts to help countries develop better marketing systems and transportation infrastructure as well.5

This expanded focus increased demand for IADS’s services — the agency had worked with at least 36 countries by 1981 — and led Sterling Wortman to exclaim that IADS “may be far more important than any other current activity in the [Conquest of Hunger]” program.6

IADS Faces a Crossroads

Nevertheless, IADS sat at a crossroads in the early 1980s. The RF emerged from the previous decade of economic downturn seeking new ways to “make our limited dollars count.”7 To address this challenge, the Foundation’s new Agricultural Sciences Division deemphasized the interdisciplinary programs, decreased its field work, and began to reduce support for initiatives that were increasingly funded by larger donors. Collectively, these factors led the RF to investigate terminating its support for IADS entirely.

A potential answer emerged in the summer of 1981, when John A. Pino drafted a proposal to merge IADS with the Agricultural Development Council (ADC), founded by John D. Rockefeller 3rd in 1953 to “stimulate and support economic and related activities” in rural Asia, and the Winrock International Research and Training Center (WI), established in 1975 on land owned by former Arkansas governor Winthrop Rockefeller to improve livestock farming. Collectively, these three institutions had over 50 years of experience working in Asia, Africa, the U.S., and Latin America.

The merger made sense, Pino argued, because each institution carried a Rockefeller affiliation, maintained a strong reputation in agriculture, and, perhaps most importantly, specialized in issues that were complementary to those at the other organizations. Working under a single umbrella, ADC, IADS and WI could attract additional funding and pool their resources — human, technical, and financial — to work across a broader spectrum of disciplines in a wider variety of countries. In short, the organizations would be stronger together than apart.

RF leaders agreed. By the fall of 1981, the board had agreed to let IADS approach WI about a potential merger. Discussions between IADS, WI and the ADC continued throughout 1982 and 1983, aided by a $15,000 gift from David Rockefeller to support a merger committee comprised of officials from each organization. By 1984, a merger seemed likely. It was estimated that the new organization would possess an initial endowment of $30 million, mostly from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust, and another $4 million from the Ford Foundation and the RF. The committee also planned to raise additional funds from the Rockefeller family and Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and had recently hired legal and financial consultants to accelerate the union of the three organizations.

After further planning, the new Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development was formally created in July 1985. Headquartered in Arkansas, the Institute had 16 field offices at launch and possessed a staff of over 200 people. In its first six months, Winrock managed over 60 projects, many of which were previously initiated by IADS, the ADC and WI, and maintained a portfolio of over $40 million. Today, Winrock International works on over 100 projects in more than 40 countries. It has also broadened its mission to address other global issues in addition to agriculture, including climate change, gender equality, energy conservation and economic development.


Two years after IADS formed, Sterling Wortman remained unsure of the agency’s future — it could thrive as “one of the Foundation’s more substantial contributions in the field of international agriculture,” or it could “fizzle.”8 Despite IADS’s untested approach, however, the agency did not “fizzle.” Instead, it demonstrated the viability of a new interdisciplinary and nationally-focused agricultural strategy in the developing world, attracting support from the wider donor community and paving the way for Winrock International. Today, Winrock thus serves as a testament to the RF’s ability to leverage limited resources for maximum gain in international agriculture.


1 Sterling Wortman, “Thoughts on IADS,” March 12, 1981, Rockefeller Foundation Records, RG 1.22, Series 119, Box R2942, IADS – Organization and Planning, 1980-1985, RAC.

2 Sterling Wortman, “Proposal for an International Agricultural Development Service,” May 15, 1975, Rockefeller Foundation Records, RG 1.22, Series 119, Box R2943, IADS – Organization and Planning, 1973-1975, Rockefeller Archive Center (Sleepy Hollow, NY) (hereafter RAC).

3 “Comments on Proposal for an International Agricultural Development Service,” October 9, 1975, Rockefeller Foundation Records, RG 1.22, Series 119, Box R2943, IADS – Organization and Planning, 1973-1975, RAC.

4 “The Origin and Scope of IADS Programs: A Summary of Events and Actions Related to the Programs of IADS” December 31, 1980, Rockefeller Foundation Records, RG 1.22, Series 119, Box R2942, IADS – Organization and Planning, 1980-1985, RAC.

5 Ibid.

6 Sterling Wortman, “Thoughts on IADS,” March 12, 1981, Rockefeller Foundation Records, RG 1.22, Series 119, Box R2942, IADS – Organization and Planning, 1980-1985, RAC.

7 Rockefeller Foundation 1981 Annual Report (New York: Rockefeller Foundation, 1981), 20.8 “Note on the Involvement of the Foundation in Development of the International Agricultural Research System,” November 23, 1977, Sterling Wortman Papers, Series 1, Box 2, Folder 8, RAC.

8 “Note on the Involvement of the Foundation in Development of the International Agricultural Research System,” November 23, 1977, Sterling Wortman Papers, Series 1, Box 2, Folder 8, RAC.