An line for emergency food relief in india. Saikat Paul/shutterstock
An line for emergency food relief in india. Saikat Paul/shutterstock

Cargill is an American giant, but its footprint spans the globe. So how did a global pandemic change its overall philanthropy, and specifically its international giving?

The answer: raising its 2020 giving by roughly 90 percent and building upon its food security partnerships around the world. These steps come amid rising warnings by international officials that the coronavirus pandemic has put tens of millions of people at risk of starvation. Last month, the executive director of the World Food Programme said, “Humanity is facing the greatest crisis any of us have ever seen.”

A Global Focus on Food Insecurity

Cargill is the largest privately held global corporation in the country, with revenues topping $100 billion across agriculture, food, financial and industrial divisions. Though it calls the Twin Cities home, its 155,000 associates live and work in 70 countries.

The company’s total global and domestic giving in fiscal 2019 totaled roughly $60 million, dispersed through three “streams.” About half of its investments flowed through corporate social responsibility efforts decided locally by 350 employee councils. The other half were made through lines of business. An additional $10 million in strategic giving was granted through the Cargill Foundation, mostly to alleviate childhood hunger in its headquarters area.

In 2020, it responded to changing times by raising its total giving by roughly 90 percent—to $115 million. Thirty-five million of that was specifically committed to combating the pandemic.

Cargill’s global strategy stayed the course on food security work that helped 860,000 farmers improve their earnings potential through training in sustainable agricultural and business practices. And it built upon partnerships that funded tens of millions of meals for people in pandemic-impacted communities.

Helping Farmers

Two of Cargill’s major international farming partnerships center on empowering women in agriculture: She Feeds the World, a partnership with CARE, and Hatching Hope, a leadership initiative with Heifer International.

In developing countries, an average of 40 percent of the agricultural workforce consists of women, depending on crop and country. Yet inequities in land access, financial support and education stymies productivity levels. In the big picture, closing the gender gap in developing nations has the potential of increasing yields by up to 30 percent, and agricultural output by up to 4 percent.

Cargill expanded its partnership with the international humanitarian organization CARE in 2019, with a three-year, total $10 million commitment to She Feeds the World. The investment will support 2 million workers across Central America, Africa and Asia, working directly with women on financial inclusion, building skills in sustainable practices, and market engagement.

Interventions include investments in local village savings and loan associations, and advocacy strategies for structural change that include engaging men and boys. In its first six months, more than 500 micro-entrepreneurs and small producers in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua notched a more than $500,000 increase in gross income.

Cargill also grew its signature global initiative, Hatching Hope, with Heifer International, which helps women farmers improve their lives and livelihoods through poultry farming. Its initial investment of $10 million will provide resources and training for poultry promotion, production and consumption. In all, the initiative is expected to improve the nutritional and economic circumstances of 100 million people by 2030.

The commitment was inspired by a 2017 partnership with Heifer in China that provided 450 women-led poultry farms with chicks and training. Within two years, Cargill co-created Hatching Hope Global Initiative’s expansion in Mexico, working directly with women smallholder farmers on connecting with private sector buyers, creating market access and increasing income opportunities. The program’s original site in India has improved earnings for an estimated 24,000 women smallholder farmers since June of 2019. Kenya will be next.

Cargill leverages its investments with skills training by employees on the ground in India and Mexico, who teach things like poultry production and feeding techniques, biosecurity measures, and chicken coop construction.

Michelle Grog, vice president of corporate responsibility at Cargill, says promoting gender and racial equity is a central part of its work across all impact priorities, which also include human rights, equity and inclusion, farmer livelihoods, land use, climate change and water resources.

The company is not alone in seeing agriculture as a key solution to building financial security for women and ending food insecurity. Inside Philanthropy has covered both the PepsiCo Foundation and the Mastercard Foundation’s efforts to lift women’s lives through farming.

Increased Need, Increased Support

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, Cargill worked with existing global food security partners to meet increased need, resulting in millions of meals for sidelined families and students.

It provided more than 14 million meals in 16 countries through one partner alone, the Global Foodbanking Network, prompting Lisa Moon, the organization’s president and CEO, to call its work together “more important than ever.”

Cargill also partnered with Save the Children in Thailand to promote positive nutritional and health practices for 3,500 children. Support for Food Banks Canada provided more than a half-million meals. Its investment in World Central Kitchen in Central America improved food security for more than 15,000 students. And it pledged to provide 16 million meals for vulnerable families in India, working with three partners: the Akshaya Patra Foundation, Feeding India and India Food Banking Network (IFBN). Cargill also invested in another of CARE International’s programs—Nourishing the Future, to meet food insecurity challenges of more than 13,000 people in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

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