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May 18, 2022

Fast-growing agribusiness companies in Africa excel in resilience, innovation and harnessing technology to increase productivity

Johanna Raehalme

It’s been two years since Finnfund, FMO and IFC arranged the first ever African Cheetahs event, bringing together the “Cheetahs”, executives of Africa’s most promising, fast-growing agribusiness companies. So much has changed since then: we have all made our way through two years of challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic and these years have not only transformed our way of working but also changed the business environment for all our invited guests. The concept of the event is built around solving challenges together through both discussions and case studies, and there is definitely no lack of topics: climate change, post-harvest losses and limited market access have been on the agenda before but now we could add a global pandemic and disruptions to the global supply chain caused by the Ukraine crisis. Still, the atmosphere was positive and I can’t help but admire the can-do spirit of these companies. That’s probably what has taken them so far. One example of resilience is our portfolio company EthioChicken, who have tackled both COVID and a civil war during the past two years.

So much has changed but the energy is the same

For me personally, this was the first event that I attended in my new role as head of Finnfund’s newly established Nairobi office. Two years ago, it took me 20 hours to get to the event from my home in Helsinki, but this year I was there in just 30 minutes from my Nairobi home doorstep. Instead of scheduling follow-up calls with old and new contacts, we agreed that we would meet in-person during the coming weeks. This is exactly what we mean when we say that our regional office will strengthen our position in the East African market. I’m so happy to be here and to be able to meet both existing clients, co-investors and potential investees in person on a regular basis.

Even if many things have changed during these two years since the first African Cheetahs event, the energy was definitely the same: there is something special in the air when creative, ambitious and successful entrepreneurs get together and share their experiences. There is a special sense of trust among the participants. Discussions are open and honest and you get a feeling of being among friends rather than competitors.

Our role as an impact investor is to recognise and support the companies that can help improve the productivity of agriculture in a sustainable manner. This not only increases food security but also creates jobs and raises the income of people dependent on farming.

Agribusiness is a key player

Two years ago, at the first African Cheetahs event, the group visited Twiga Foods, a company that aims to contribute to improving the processing and logistical challenges that smallholder farmers in Africa face, by creating channels for their products to access markets. In 2021, we invested in the company through the OP Finnfund Global Impact Fund I. Twiga’s mobile-based food supply platform is a fine example of how digital innovations can increase productivity and improve access to products and services. Overall, utilising both agricultural and digital technology is of great significance when scaling up the business.

In connection with the event last week, the group visited Sanergy, a Finnfund investee since 2017. Sanergy’s example is circular economy at its best: Sanergy builds affordable sanitation products designed specifically for urban slums, collects sanitation waste from the community and finally converts it into useful end products, such as fertilisers, animal feed and biogas. Seeing the scale to which the company has managed to grow its operations made a big impression to the entire group.

If all goes as planned, there will be another African Cheetahs event soon. Next time we meet, we will know more about how the food price shock has impacted food security. What we know already is that it has highlighted the importance of productivity in the agriculture sector especially in Africa. There is no doubt that the agribusiness companies play a key role in the society and we are there to support them in good times and bad.

Johanna Raehalme
Head of Nairobi office

 

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