twitter icon instagram icon facebook icon



Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative logo

Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas

The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, founded in 2013 at the University of Arkansas, focuses on putting tribal sovereignty in food sovereignty by offering practical legal research, policy analysis, and educational resources on food and agricultural issues to Tribal Nations, Native producers, and Tribal food businesses around the country.

Quick stats:

  • IFAI is the research partner to the Native Farm Bill Coalition, an organization of over 180 Tribal Nations who worked to see 63 Native-specific provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill.
  • The Model Tribal Food and Agriculture Code, a comprehensive legal resource developed by IFAI for Tribal Nations looking to express their sovereignty in the space of food and agriculture, was released in December 2018. Over 200 Tribes have accessed it since that time, and one has passed a law based on the model code!
  • The IFAI Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Leadership Summit has served over 400 Native youth and is now in its 7th year.

A Partner for Tribal Agriculture Research and Policy

As the only organization dedicated to supporting Tribal governance efforts specifically as they relate to food and agriculture, IFAI has occupied a truly unique space since the organization was founded in 2013 by then-Dean Stacy Leeds (Cherokee) and founding Director Janie Simms Hipp (Chickasaw). 
Everything that IFAI does—practical legal research, policy analysis, education and training—is designed to promote Tribal sovereignty in food systems.

Using the law to address tribal concerns that touch different governments and many parties requires the ability to stitch together interests of many separate groups of people. To be able to weave in things of importance to everyone is a powerful skill that the IFAI team has been able to practice by always starting and ending with a focus on tribal governance This is evident in all of IFAI’s work, from the Model Tribal Food and Agriculture Code, developed by IFAI and partners to help Tribal governments promote sovereignty through agricultural policy, to the team’s work as the research partner to the Native Farm Bill Coalition, providing comprehensive, well-researched policy analysis to members of over 180 Tribal Nations on federal food and agriculture policy.

Unlike any other producer or business owner, tribes and Native agriculture producers work within a complex legal framework that does not always take into account the tribal government’s status as a sovereign entity. Our work is about supporting tribal sovereignty over food systems in order to foster sustainable tribally-driven solutions to build vibrant food economies across Indian Country. –Colby Duren, Director

Developing the Next Generation of Indigenous Food and Agriculture Leaders

As part of a flagship land-grant academic institution, a central part of IFAI’s mission is to support the next generation of food and agriculture leaders in Indian Country. IFAI works closely with partners like the Intertribal Agriculture Council to build a bench of Indigenous youth leaders to carry forward the knowledge that helps Indigenous food systems and businesses thrive. IFAI offers an annual youth event, the Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Leadership Summit, which represents an opportunity for Native youth to spend an intensive week focusing on four key subject matter areas in food systems: agricultural business and finance, agricultural law and policy, land stewardship and conservation, and nutrition and health. Now in its seventh year, this program has served over 400 Indigenous youth, with program graduates now working full time at national intertribal organizations and leading their own food sovereignty initiatives in their communities.


Duren, Colby. Interview by Meghan Jernigan, Headwater People. 2 August 2019.