History

IFDC Headquarters

The IFDC facilities were built in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, United States, on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Reservation in 1976. In 1987, IFDC established its Africa Division office in Lomé, Togo, and in 1992 established its Asia Division office in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Today, IFDC has four divisions to support our programs with 25 offices in 28 countries.

IFDC Background

IFDC was created in October 1974 as a center of excellence with expertise in fertilizers to service the needs of developing countries.

IFDC was first established as a private, nonprofit corporation under the laws of the State of Alabama, United States. Once created as a nonprofit organization, IFDC immediately began the process to qualify for the designation of a "Public International Organization," with all the privileges and immunities inherent to the designation.

This designation, under U.S. law, allowed IFDC to receive widespread support, cooperation and backing of the world community for which it was created. The designation as a public international organization was granted in March 1977 by Presidential Decree 11977. As a result, IFDC became truly international in composition, financing and operation. This designation has contributed greatly to the organization’s success over the years.

IFDC's Early History

IFDC can be considered an outgrowth of TVA’s National Fertilizer Development Center (NFDC). In the early 1960s, when Dr. Donald L. McCune joined NFDC, it became evident that TVA-NFDC’s fertilizer knowledge and facilities were resources that should contribute to foreign assistance efforts in developing countries.

As a U.S. federal agency, the most logical way to contribute would be with programs offered through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

With the assistance of a USAID officer, Dr. Frank Parker (former assistant director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] of the United Nations), who was well-acquainted with the role that fertilizers could and should play in the agriculture of developing countries, TVA-NFDC became increasingly involved in agricultural development in those regions. Initially, this involvement was in the form of information furnished on fertilizers to USAID for its missions, but the interaction soon became more direct when NFDC began sending technical assistance personnel on missions to developing countries. During this time NFDC had a relatively small core staff, referred to as the International Fertilizer Development staff, headed by McCune and dedicated to limited international assistance activities.

Despite these developments and successes, it became increasingly clear that TVA, with its objective of developing technologies for the U.S. fertilizer industry in particular, and the agricultural sector in general (as stipulated in its charter and by a law passed by the U.S. Congression), was very restricted in what it was allowed to do to assist developing countries. For example, TVA could not engage in research and development specifically for developing countries, and TVA-NFDC could perform work only through the U.S. government (USAID or Department of State). Thus, a definitive need arose for an international center that could freely address the fertilizer technology needs of developing countries in the tropics and sub-tropics.

IFDC was created during a period of crisis. In the early 1970s, food shortages were occurring on a worldwide basis. Energy and fertilizer shortages also were becoming commonplace, and prices of agricultural inputs (fertilizers) were increasing rapidly. These factors put developing countries at a distinct disadvantage.

To address this critical situation, the FAO organized a World Food Conference, held in Rome, Italy, in November 1974. In preparation for the conference, the United States, in consultation with the late Sir John Crawford of Australia – then Chairman of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) – decided to offer developed world "know-how" in fertilizers and soil fertility toward an international effort in fertilizer research and development to benefit the developing world. In an April 1974 address to the United Nations General Assembly, U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger pledged the availability of U.S. fertilizer technology and strong material support toward "the establishment of an international action on two specific areas of research: improving the effectiveness of chemical fertilizers, especially in tropical agriculture; and new methods to produce fertilizers from non-petroleum resources."

After Dr. Kissinger’s offer, work began immediately on a proposal to fulfill this pledge. USAID, again at the urging of Sir John Crawford, drew up a plan. The first plan was for an "International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI)." The vision for IPNI had three program components: 

  1. Work on chemical fertilizers – to deal with all aspects of fertilizer from raw materials to finished products at the farm-gate including marketing, handling, storage, distribution, packaging, quality control, etc., to provide better and more efficient fertilizers at the lowest possible price.
  2. Biological nitrogen (N) fixation – to evaluate the potential for and develop, where feasible, ways in which biological nitrogen fixation could contribute to food production, thus reducing the amount of chemical N fertilizers that would be needed.
  3. The recycling and better utilization of organic wastes – from urban, industrial and crop residue sources; a broad assignment when one considers the variations in organic wastes that occur worldwide.

The TAC briefly discussed the IPNI proposal, concluded much could be done on chemical fertilizers in a short period of time and urged USAID to move ahead on the first component. The other two components would be deferred for further study.

To take advantage of the technology available from the United States, the role that TVA could and should play was sought. Although TVA had been actively supporting USAID programs since the mid-1960s, the TVA Board of Directors indicated that TVA could go no further without new legislation. Therefore, in 1974, the TVA Board suggested that the new initiative take on a separate form. TVA did, however, pledge its full cooperation and its fertilizer technology. It further offered a site at its Muscle Shoals location so that close cooperation between TVA's Organization of Agricultural and Chemical Development (OACD) and the new institution could be ensured.

By July 1975, an agreement had been signed with TVA, whereby TVA would defer to the newly formed IFDC all work dealing with fertilizers for the developing countries and, conversely, IFDC would not work on U.S.-focused issues. Information developed by IFDC would be available to entities in the United States only through TVA. Entities in other developed countries could be contacted by either or both organizations. TVA would also be the official representative of the United States at all international meetings. IFDC would attend such meetings under its own auspices.

Although a number of locations in developing countries were considered for IFDC, it was obvious that the opportunity to develop a site on TVA property had many advantages. First, it would be close to the TVA's OACD and would facilitate transfer of U.S. technology. Second, TVA had agreed to furnish IFDC, at cost, the raw materials (phosphoric acid, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, urea solution, etc.) needed for research activities. Thus, IFDC would not have to build its own chemical plants nor have to build storage for these materials. This arrangement produced a sizable saving in both plant cost and manpower.

Also, IFDC was able to contract with TVA for a number of other facilities and services, not the least of which was the ability to share the OACD Library (recognized at that time as the best working library on fertilizers in existence). IFDC had access to TVA’s medical facilities and contracted for fire protection, security, grounds maintenance and other services. The possibility of sharing facilities was also very enticing. The two organizations have had excellent working relations and do share facilities. In short, the TVA site possessed most of the ingredients necessary for IFDC to become fully operational in a short period of time and at a modest start-up cost.

Thus, IFDC was established in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in late 1974. In July 1975, the international staff of TVA was transferred to IFDC to become the nucleus of the new organization. Construction of the IFDC complex was started at its present site in March 1976. Some facilities were occupied in late 1976, and the total complex was available for occupancy in August 1977.

USAID was the chief sponsor for the establishment of IFDC. The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada also functioned as a co-sponsor and, in fact, provided the first financing in the form of a startup grant (CDN $50,000) in late 1974. (IDRC continued to be a regular contributor to IFDC programs until 1994.) Soon thereafter, USAID contributed to the start-up with a contribution of US $250,000.