Deal Room closes with optimism in the air

It has been a busy week for The Deal Room, driving home the impact of agribusiness enterprises – often smallholder farmers and rural SMEs – that are the backbone of sub-Saharan Africa’s agriculture. There has been matchmaking between SMEs and investors, governments presenting investment opportunities and the signing of new term sheets. The final, closing session of the Deal Room on the last day of the AGRF 2020 was introduced by Mr. Kebba Colley, Director inclusive business development, IDH who asked Mr. Jim Barnhart Deputy Coordinator for Development, Feed the Future/ Assistant to the Administrator of the Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, USAID about his highlights. Mr. Barnhart emphasised the importance of the entire ecosystem, from the smallholder to the consumer and the pivotal role SMEs play in the middle of the value chain. By focussing on them he wants to build resilience in the face of shock and reach their growth potential. He stressed that donors alone are unable to fill this gap: finance is the key and reducing risk is a priority. He went on to explain how international partners can play a role in mitigating that risk, advocating the use of blended finance. He used the example of how USAID has worked with IBH and coffee growers, providing a USD 25 million loan fund to support SMEs while proving to financial institutions that profit is there to be earned.

Mr. Jonathan Said, Head of Practices and Inclusive Growth, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change congratulated everyone for their contribution to the virtual event, which he acknowledged had been a huge learning curve. He looked forward to seeing what has been achieved in the last week, both concrete and potential deals, and a bit of insight into how it all happened, before expressing his pleasure at the progress being made.

There followed a virtual signing of letters of intent, including Ms. Vanessa Adams, VP Strategic Partnerships, AGRA and Ms. Amrote Abdella, Director 4Afrika, Microsoft who signed a Memorandum of Understanding. Mr. Mauricio Adade, Chairman, AIF (Africa Improved Foods) held a letter of intent already signed, with plans to move what they have learnt in Rwanda to other countries in Africa – they aim to have 2 million farmers on board by 2025.

Mr. Lloyd Le Page, Senior Agriculture Advisor, Tony Blair Institute - TBI Agriculture Investment Facilitation Programme for Governments looked back to the very first Forum 13 years ago and the work he has done with 15 African countries in the Deal Room since 2018. Ms. Atsuko Toda, Director for Agricultural Finance and Rural Development, AfDB was impressed by the amount of collaboration that has gone on, while Ms. Jennifer Mack, Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, USAID announced Feed the Future, a three year program to promote learning and share good practice, directing anyone interested in more information to the USAID virtual booth.

Ms. Sofia Condes, Programme Lead, Nutritious Foods Financing, GAIN – Nutritious Food Financing Fund (N3F) announced N3F, a fund to support SMEs in value chains, and supply technical assistance and finance. It also takes the blended finance approach, with a mixture of public and private capital. She credited the Deal Room with supporting the launch and helping them understand the food systems of Africa.

Ms. Diane Holdorf, Managing Director of Food & Nature, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and Mr. Sean de Cleene, Member of the Executive Committee, The World Economic Forum both acknowledged the work done in the Deal Room this year, before Mr. Valentine Miheso, Strategic Partnerships, AGRA began the closing ceremony. He thanked the government of Rwanda and His Excellency Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda for hosting what, he said, had been a great week. He also thanked the AGRF secretariat, AGRA, co-chairs USAID, IFAD, DfID UK, the Rockefeller Foundation, GrowAfrica, AfDB, TBI, ASCF, the World Economic Forum, Casa, GAIN, IFC and KPMG, to name just a few.

Maura Barry, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator, USAID looked back on the buzz on the Deal Room last year, and said she could not have imagined it working virtually, but that it really had. With nearly 3,000 participants, 400 capital providers and discussions still ongoing, and likely to continue for weeks to come. She literally banged us out with a drum before quoting Winston Churchill about never letting a crisis go to waste! Till next year.