Intertribal Agriculture Council

Sustainably Financing Indian Country Agriculture and Food System Development

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Throughout the existence of the Federal-Tribal relationship, the plight of poverty stricken, yet natural resource rich Native American communities has vexed policy makers, philanthropy, and academia. Our work over three decades throughout Indian Country has identified the two major challenges which are the broken system of agriculture finance and well-intentioned NGO's that cannot truly fund their missions. Through our Sustainability Finance Model and our CDFI Network, funds will be invested directly in Indian Agribusinesses. The 10% return on that investment will fund the administration and growth of the capital pool (3%) and the mission-based work of IAC and our national partners (7%). We will scale and implement this sustainable model of finance wherein the target community controls the flow of capital into projects that are most relevant. Equitable finance will rebuild Tribal and rural economies, reduce dependence on programs, alleviate poverty and associated conditions, and deliver nutritious, high-quality foods.

Problem Statement

During Colonial Settlement, the U.S. federal government forcibly removed Native Americans to reservation lands which permanently disrupted their lifeways including their way of producing food. Since that time, like many others, Native American farmers and ranchers have been subject to poorly conceived federal loan programs that perpetuate financial distress and encourage the production of low-quality, low-nutrient commodity foods. As evidenced by the Keepseagle vs. Vilsack settlement, federal loan programs designed to support producers have been wrought with bias and exclusion, partially due to enduring negative perceptions of Native American people. Private funders lend through predatory terms while charitable funders offer insufficient funding or parameters that are misaligned to the actual need. As a result, Native American people have experienced life for nearly a century characterized by under-resourced and impoverished economies with community members suffering from associated chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and psychological distress. In spite of this profound disruption, Native American producers persisted and have maintained agricultural productivity. According to the University of Arkansas, Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative (IFAI), over 72,000 Tribally-managed operations stand at the ready to produce high quality food and fiber for consumers worldwide. To solve the problem of equitable finance of Indian agriculture is to empower those who know the land and its capabilities, are able to possess and control the resources required to develop their own economies, make their own decisions about how food is produced, reduce dependency on federal and private programs, and deliver food to their communities.

Solution Overview

In 2018 IAC secured $2,900,000 from the Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF), funds derived directly from the Keepseagle settlement, to fund a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) focused solely on Indian agriculture and food systems. Through the Sustainability Finance Model, ‘Akiptan’ solves the decades long challenge of access to affordable and patient capital. ‘Akiptan’ is Lakota for “joining together, a joint effort, cooperatively, or sharing” and is designed to shift the paradigm of financing Indians in agriculture through a return on investment approach that benefits the recipient, the ‘lender,’ and the ecosystem of organizations that serve them.Akiptan looks to those left behind, ignored, or discriminated against by conventional financing as the backbone of a revenue generation model to fund capacity development organizations. While Akiptan provides financing for value-added agriculture, other CDFIs, and for producers who cannot otherwise access fair financing, Akiptan also offers conventional financing with the option for flexibility to serve as a risk management tool. Since Akiptan’s inception, the Sustainability Finance model has been deployed in various types of agribusinesses across 14 Indian nations and counting. Using this model, the principal is indefinitely invested in the Indian communities which creates further economic benefits and allows for capacity development. In exchange, Akiptan receives an annual return of up to 10% for every dollar invested. Through the MacArthur award, IAC will scale and refine this progressive revenue sharing model to once and for all turn the tide in favor of vibrant, self-sufficient, and regenerative Native American food economies.

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Project Funders

  • Native American Agriculture Fund (Keepseagle)
  • US Treasury CDFI NACA

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