BY ANTHONY SEDZRO
A US$60 million fund to address the funding gap faced by seeds companies has been launched to boost sustainable agriculture on the African continent.
The 6-year, US$60 million initiative, called the Seeds for Impact Program (SIP), is a programme and rolling competition that offers ﬁnancial and technical assistance to seed companies and smallholder farmers across Africa.
The SIP, an initiative of the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF), was launched at an impressive cocktail reception at the Labadi Beach Hotel, Accra on the 27th of November, 2018. The launch event was attended by seed growers, international agriculture funders, dignitaries, and government officials across the African continent and was moderated by the AECF Board Chair, Lord Paul Boateng.
The West Africa launch was undertaken by AECF in partnership with Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA). The program featured presentations from Victoria Johnson-Chadwick, Investor Relations Manager for SFSA and George Bigirwa, Head, Seed Research & Systems Development for Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) on the topic “Why Financing Seeds for Impact is Crucial” and also had comments from Dr. John Manful, a Food and Agricultural Research Scientist and Advisor to Ghana’s Minister for Agriculture.
The Seeds for Impact Program will start with an initial funding of US$10 million from (AGRA) and Syngenta Foundation that will target private sector companies in 12 countries namely Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique.
SIP seeks to address the funding gap faced by scaling seed companies in their quest to produce improved seed for staple crops.
“It was key for us to launch Seeds for Impact in West Africa as current agricultural practices in sub-Saharan Africa has undermined the goal of food security and productivity of low-cost nutritious food in both rural and urban markets. Our goal with SIP is to substantially increase the incomes of thousands of smallholder farmers in West Africa by transferring to them in-demand, high-yielding and climate-smart seed, planting material technologies and agricultural innovation,” shared Lord Paul Boateng, a former British MP, British High Commissioner to South Africa and Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Development of the British Parliament.
Dr Manful said that we need to look after the smallholder farmers because they are the people who have put food on our tables. He said it is for this reason that the Ghana government’s flagship agriculture programme-Planting for Food and Jobs – which has five pillars, has a Seeds Programme as the first pillar.
Commenting, George Bigirwa of AGRA explained why his outfit decided to support the SIP. “We know that whereas in other countries governments try to establish in their various sector ministries special initiatives in mining, infrastructure, energy and so on, there is none for seed companies. And yet seed companies are playing an important role…”
Mr Bigirwa also said “At the same time, we also know interest rates for loans are very high. Most of these companies are peasants and they cannot afford loans from commercial financial institutions.”
“In addition to seed investment, the Seeds for Impact Program will provide eligible businesses with access to research and development information available at indigenous public research stations, technology scouting services, business planning, trials, registration, technical support for seed production and monitoring & evaluation, financial advisory, and match-making for follow-on financing. The initiative will support farmers as well as distributors to satisfy seed market needs in West Africa through the introduction of improved varieties and technical assistance needed to scale,” added Daniel Ohonde, Chief Executive Officer of AECF who has more than 25 years-experience of global senior leadership in private sector enterprise development, partnership and resource mobilization across Africa.
Awardees of the Seeds for Impact Program will be granted technical and financial assistance and concessional loans and grants ranging between US$250,000 and US$1.5 million. Criteria for eligibility include:
- Small and Medium (SME) seed companies located in one of the focus countries and have a turnover of less than US$10million
- Demonstrate the ability to match AECF funding
- Must be compliant with fundamental in-country and international human rights, labour standards, environmental management laws, seed laws/policy
- Legally registered and physically established in the country of doing business
Globally, the provision and adoption of improved seed and planting material for many crops has raised productivity, improved the lives of millions of farmers and improved the availability of low cost nutritious food in both rural and urban markets. Africa, however, has so far not benefitted from this productivity increase. Crop yields for the smallholder farmers who dominate African agriculture are the lowest in the world, due in part to limited access to quality inputs and improved seed varieties suitable for different climatic conditions, soils and production systems across the continent, according to information from the AECF.
The AECF is a development institution which supports businesses to innovate, create jobs, leverage investments and markets in an effort to create resilience and sustainable incomes in rural and marginalized communities in Africa. Launched in 2008, the AECF has mobilized over US$356 million to date, leveraging more than US$658 million in matching capital and improving the lives of more than 16 million people in 2017 alone through jobs and increased household incomes. AECF has so far supported 266 companies in 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa across 40 value chains in our focal sectors of agribusiness and renewable energy.