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Paving the Way for Capital: The Role of Technical Assistance in Mobilising Finance for Smallholder Farmers and Businesses

27.10.2014Jane Abramovich and Matt Foerster

Today, much of the conversation around smallholder agricultural finance is happening among an inspiring yet small group of social lenders and investment funds. These pioneering institutions have developed new products and disbursed millions of dollars in support of smallholder agriculture worldwide. However, as highlighted in Dalberg's recent report, an estimated gap of $400 billion still exists between demand and supply of finance to smallholder farmers. Without access to financial products and services, smallholders and agricultural enterprises are unable to purchase necessary supplies, expand production and increase their incomes.

There are several opportunities for non-lenders to play a more active role in closing this gap. Organisations that provide training, technical assistance and financial advisory services can help "de-risk" agricultural finance by offering farmers, cooperatives and small businesses capacity building and advisory services. With local knowledge of smallholder realities, expertise on value chain dynamics and established in-country networks, these organisations are uniquely positioned to offer multiple benefits to stakeholders throughout the financial ecosystem. By providing training and capacity development, they help smallholder farmers and small businesses understand, forecast and communicate their financial needs to potential lenders and investors. By designing and implementing transparency tools and processes, they help lower transaction costs for financial institutions and often serve as their "eyes and ears" before and after investment. Based on insights from regional projects in value chains such as cashew, cocoa and coffee, we identified four scalable approaches for how technical assistance providers can increase access to financial products and services for small farmers and businesses while reducing risk for capital providers.

1. Agricultural value chains and market systems can be strengthened through programs that develop capacity, promote market connections and improve business environment. Organisations can operate as a catalyst to strengthen agricultural value chains and market systems. These programs often begin with a value chain assessment and an industry strategic plan to determine pathways for growing a sector, addressing market failures, identifying and quantifying opportunities to benefit producers. Financial institutions can use these analyses as blueprints for expanding lending into new and unfamiliar markets.

2. Develop a pipeline of investment-ready clients. In order to prepare clients to access growth capital, technical assistance providers can offer pre-investment training including helping cooperatives and small businesses to develop business plans, improve operational efficiencies, build financial models to forecast revenues and cash flows, assess appropriate capital requirements, and provide transaction support in applying for loans or negotiating contracts. Technical assistance providers can also play a valuable supply side role by training bank analysts and loan officers on the economics of agricultural value chains. Lenders can then better evaluate financial health and viability of potential clients, as well as more efficiently structure investments, deploy capital and monitor performance.

3. Build data-sharing tools to promote transparency and streamline due diligence and monitoring. Agricultural finance continues to suffer from an information gap that drives market uncertainty and limits efficient capital flows. Recognizing the lack of cost-effective tools to collect, analyse and track information about client performance, many organisations have started to develop their own in-house mobile and cloud-based platforms to deliver real-time data to lenders and buyers. As the market continues to evolve, consolidation and efficiency gains can yield even more cost-effective and broadly applied solutions.

4. Design specialised risk management solutions. Risk is inherent in agriculture, but technical assistance providers can help mitigate this uncertainty by bringing together market players with skills and resources to design loan guarantees, risk-sharing models and matching funds based on appropriate incentives. When such mechanisms are structured along-side technical assistance and with the long term plan for any exit of donor and subsidy support, these mechanisms can lead over time to sustainable financial solutions for smallholders and small businesses.

Depending on their financial health and objectives of its clients, TechnoServe integrates the above approaches into its programmatic activities. Where appropriate, we provide our clients with simulation-based financial literacy training through our "Farming as a Business" and "Keys to Financial Success" curricula. Beyond training, TechnoServe's field-based network of more than 600 full-time business advisors and farmer trainers work hand-in-hand with farmer organisations and small businesses, helping to strengthen their operations and become more profit-oriented.

For example, building on an industry strategic plan developed for the East Africa coffee sector, which formed the core component of TechnoServe's Coffee Initiative, the program helped aggregate production from nearly 200,000 farmers and supported farmer cooperatives in building and upgrading 285 wet mill businesses. During the first four years, the program provided critical advisory on product quality and sustainability standards to the participating wet mill businesses. To address the lack of transparency in the local value chains, TechnoServe launched CoffeeTransparency.com, a cloud-based platform that delivers real-time data to lenders and buyers. During the harvest season, the system is populated daily with SMS reports from more than 80 coffee wet mills in Rwanda and Ethiopia. Four financial providers subscribe to the system, which has reduced the costs and logistical constraints of rural finance by offering powerful financial and performance metrics comparable over time and across clients. In 2013 alone, this system helped more than 50 cooperative and private coffee wet mills in Rwanda to access more than $3 million of working capital. In parallel, in Ethiopia where financial landscape is particularly challenging, TechnoServe established a new risk-sharing partnership between the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Nib International Bank, one of Ethiopia's largest private commercial banks. With a $10 million risk sharing agreement from IFC, Nib has made available a revolving loan facility to more than 60 coffee cooperatives, reaching 45,000 farmers. As a result of the integrated approach, TechnoServe clients were able to access $38 million in long-term credit and working capital over just the first four years.

The presence of technical assistance providers in certain farming systems or value chains can play a critical role in incentivizing lenders to engage in smallholder finance. Buyers and traders are also more willing to extend financing when a technical assistance provider is involved, particularly when the duration of technical assistance and financial exposure is aligned. When delivered effectively, collaboratively and with a long-term vision, technical assistance to farmers, cooperatives and small businesses can pave the way for increased capital flows from financial institutions.

However, it is all too common that either capital is available and technical assistance is not, or vice versa. What is needed is a coordinated approach that links provision of capital to provision of technical assistance. This must be addressed in ways that incentivize the respective institutions to work together to benefit smallholder farmers and agricultural enterprises. Over time, this will unlock new income-generating opportunities for rural communities and help to close the smallholder-financing gap.

TechnoServe is an international non-profit development organisation headquartered in Washington, DC. Since its founding in 1968, TechnoServe has successfully used a private enterprise approach to assist low-income people in the developing world to build and strengthen sustainable businesses, industries and the enabling environment. Over 46 years, we have been a trusted partner with corporate, foundation and public development partners, implementing diverse value chain, market-led agriculture development, and entrepreneurship capacity building programs. For more information about TechnoServe please go to www.tns.org or email A2F@tns.org.

Revolutionizing access to finance for African SMEs

12.09.2014Jean-Michel Severino

Over the past decade Africa has experienced a 5% growth across the continent. This surprising and spectacular growth attracts investors from around the world. They are both forced to change their perception about what contains profound upheaval, and seduced by what is now considered as the emerging new frontier. Among the ten countries in the world where economic growth was the fastest between 2000 and 2010, five were located in sub-Saharan Africa: Equatorial Guinea (12.3% per year), Angola (9.3% per year), Chad (8.8% per year), Nigeria (7.4% per year) and Ethiopia (6.9% per year).

But this growth remains fragile, uneven and carries huge challenges: how to ensure that it benefits to the greatest number of people and allow millions to get out of the poverty trap?

In 2050, Africa will not only account for 4% of the global economy, it will also make up 23% of the world's population. This new world pole will be facing major issues such as the employment of a young and dynamic population that will be increasingly numerous in the labour markets. In this context, African small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are best positioned to create jobs and local added value, as well as develop the local economic fabric. They stand for essential drivers for social and political stability by spreading the wealth created and structuring local economies.

Nevertheless, SMEs appear as missing links in most African economies. They desperately need to find ways to meet their needs for growth despite a latent lack of access to finance. Too small and too costly to manage for large banking institutions, they are also too large to meet the investment criteria of microfinance institutions. They often are in a deadlock and do not fully benefit from the growth of the continent.

In this context, what solution one could bring to these key actors for responsible and sustainable growth in Africa in order to enable them start their business or scale up?

The solution lies in the emergence of new financing capacities that will offer entrepreneurs the opportunity to strengthen their capital stock under conditions compatible with certain constraints in terms of management fees, transaction costs, etc. It consists of developing a new industry of capital investment, 100% African, which can rely on a network of local investment funds, promoted by African investors and managed by locally recruited teams. This new device will revolutionize the access to finance for small African entrepreneurs through new sustainable funding solution.

But this capital will not be sufficient for African entrepreneurs to reach their growth potential and maximize their economic, social and environmental impacts. It should be complemented by strategic guidance for establishing solid fundamentals and ensuring sustainable development in due respect of all stakeholders. Finally, technical assistance missions will be essential to build and strengthen the financing capacities, through the transfer of know-hows, methodologies and the development of local skills.

The creation of this network of African investment funds will draw lessons from successes and failures of microfinance and will bring to private equity the same kind of revolution as the one microfinance has brought to the debt. It will require a real education for not only existing African finance players: banks, development agencies, private institutions, so that everyone contributes to the success of this new funding; but also with entrepreneurs as private equity is sometimes looked at with distrust and its benefits are not fully appreciated today!

Jean-Michel Severino is Chairman of the private finance company Investisseur & Partenaire pour le Développement (I&P). He is the former Director of France's international development agency, AFD. Jean-Michel Severino is General Inspector of Finances at the French Finance Ministry and served as Director in charge of international development at the French Ministry of Cooperation. He has also worked at the World Bank, first as Director for Central Europe and then as Vice President for Asia.

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