CGIAR in Food Systems Acceleration initiatives

The Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres’ (CGIAR) food systems acceleration teams, on October 26th, 2023 at the ILRI, Nairobi campus, hosted agribusiness and related entrepreneurs in a pitching event.

“The pitching day is a big event for us and we’re very pleased and excited to host the first cohort of 10 as they pitch for their businesses from about 50 curated investors,” explained Dr Inga Jacobs-Mata, initiative lead for Ukama Ustawi & International Water Management Institute (IWMI) Director of Water, Growth and Inclusion at a Press briefing at ILRI.

Dr Inga Jacobs-Mata, initiative lead for Ukama Ustawi & International Water Management Institute (IWMI)

As part of the agribusiness acceleration program, the Food Systems Accelerator project by CGIAR seeks to provide scaling-up grants and tailored technical assistance for SMEs from funders and investors.

According to Mercy Zulu-Hume, Sustainable Finance Specialist at Alliance Bioversity-CIAT, more cash is required in these businesses for better sustainability and growth which essentially is what scaling is about.  Funding of the businesses also facilitates the adoption of smart solutions for efficiency and effective operations.

“We’re committed to finding means of getting more funds and capital into agribusiness and agriculture for better socio-economic impact. We know there are challenges getting cash from the private sector to fund agribusiness SMEs and small-holder farmers given the risks inherent in these businesses including their often informal operations and most recently from climate change challenges including drought which can often wipe out whole crops,” Zulu-Hume explained.

“Essentially, the food systems accelerator program is a means of getting capital and we match-make impact investors and innovators (businesses). Zulu-Hume added, ” Zulu-Hume added, ” we also work with farmers in the agribusiness value chains to ensure smart agricultural practices to improve their livelihood and that of their families and communities,” Zulu-Hume added.

Mercy Zulu-Hume, Sustainable Finance Specialist at Alliance Bioversity-CIAT

She expounded that the impact investors can provide funding at different stages which helps in reducing operations risks.

She expounded that the Food Systems accelerator project is initially helping to provide funding in the East & Southern Africa (ESA) region in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia with the pitching team consisting of 4 entrepreneurs from Kenya; 2 from Uganda; 2 from Rwanda and 2 from Zambia respectively.

“The technical support that the entrepreneurs have received in the last 6 to 9 months in addition to some de-risking grants is invaluable and has culminated in the pitching event,” Zulu-Hume added. According to her, CGIAR invited proposals about 6 to 9 months ago and received 849 applications from the region; of these 210 were evaluated, and 10 were selected for the pitching.

Hauke Dahl, Scaling Lead – East and Southern Africa, Sustainable and Resilient Food Production Systems at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), explained that CGIAR has 15 research centers globally where over 10,000 scientists work including in all African countries in diverse areas such as soil health and agronomy among other fields.

Hauke Dahl, Scaling Lead – East and Southern Africa, Sustainable and Resilient Food Production Systems at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI)

“We’re keen and committed to releasing the research findings from our scientists and we do this through accelerator among other programs. We also help in creating business models and systems that work and are effective,” Daul affirmed.

“We also work with irrigation specialists for stable food crop production and we also have nutritionists including those currently working in a Zambian forest to produce unique and very nutritious products from trees,” he added. According to Daul, such collaborations with the support of CGIAR exemplify low-cost partnerships between science and business.

Andrew Massaro, CEO, of Stable Foods expounded more about the firm whose core business is promoting drip irrigation for Kenyan small-holder farmers in an endeavor to increase the production of foods such as cassava and soybeans among others.

Andrew Massaro, CEO, of Stable Foods

“We provide drip irrigation infrastructure for amalgamated smallhold farms and in the process create jobs and enhance incomes,” Massaro explained. Working in Homa Bay County and in four sites in Suba North & Suba South, the firm hopes to expand and get its 2nd and 3rd sites in different counties in 2024.

It has already onboarded 100 farmers since launching its operations early this year. Its four operations pillars include irrigation as aforementioned; selling of farm inputs including the right seed & fertilizers; training of farmers and providing a ready market for the farmers courtesy of the shops that the company manages.

“We also help farmers in producing high-value crops even in drought conditions through a borehole and two extraction points from Lake Victoria. The drip irrigation equipment and infrastructure are quite expensive and we thus help farmers who can’t possibly afford such infrastructure to engage in irrigation. The farmers also lack water,” Massaro expounded.

“We also work with irrigation partners to pump the water and we ensure that the farmers feel that they own the systems so that they can protect the systems from vandalism and theft,” he added. The company is also seeking to partner with County governments for more and better impact according to Massaro.

Peter Kirimi, Principal Investigator CFSA/ Senior Financial Inclusion Manager, (IFDC) said his organization supports agribusinesses and farmers in sourcing funding.

Peter Kirimi, Principal Investigator CFSA/ Senior Financial Inclusion Manager, (IFDC)

“In SSA (sub-Saharan Africa) getting funding isn’t easy since agribusiness is viewed as a high-risk venture. Many financial institutions shy from working with small-holder farmers and other agriculture value chain SMEs. Many of the SMEs operate informally and due to lack of funding most only merely attain about 30 percent to 50 percent of their full potential leading to low incomes and poor livelihoods for farmers, their families, and communities,” Kirimi observed.

As a food system accelerator, his firm uses its long-term experience and success stories to inspire and support agribusiness entrepreneurs. “We help the SMEs to have viable business models attractive to funders,” Kirimi added.

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