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A new report has been published by the Commercial Agriculture for Smallholders and Agribusiness (CASA) programme, titled ‘The state of the agri-SME sector – bridging the finance gap’

AF CASAThe report aims to identify change priorities to address financing issues in the agri-SME sector. (Image source: Adobe Stock)

Alvaro Valverde, private sector engagement officer (CABI) and engagement, learning and communication Lead (CASA) said, “The CASA State of the Sector report brings a new level of granularity to the market for agri-SME finance in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, highlighting the US$106bn annual financing gap. With almost all of these companies needing sub-commercial finance, coordinated action across the agri-SME finance ecosystem.”

“CASA stands ready to work with our partners and other interested parties to help make better use of subsidies, mobilise existing local financial institutions, make more climate finance available for the investment pipeline,“ he added.

Four change priorities were identified in the report to address this issue.. 

CASA identifies turning agri-SMEs into commercially investable prospects to anchor local bank markets for finance. Appropriate capital and government policy support continue to be needed across the financing continuum to fill the pipeline of investible agri-SMEs, provide the right growth capital to close the long-term financing gap and promote the emergence of large agri-enterprises that can anchor markets.

The programme also outlined developing capacity, incentives, and infrastructure for local banks and funds to profitably serve smaller, less commercial agri-SMEs over time. According to CASA, local financial institutions have the right locally denominated capital, proximity to clients and cost structure to profitably serve agri-SMEs. Capacity building and long-term subsidised capital can bring this existing banking infrastructure sustainably into the agri-SME market.

With scarce public and philanthropic funds to support the critical sub-commercial agri-SME finance market, blended finance needs to be more efficient and effective. A more sophisticated view of the market and a more transparent, collaborative, commitment by donors, DFIs, development banks, and IFIs to smarter subsidies is required, assisted by more consistent taxonomies, data, and reporting requirements, and a commitment to share learning.

According to the report, building the investment infrastructure around climate finance should be a priority to facilitate the absorption of climate funds at scale.  This will include new models and taxonomies to support large donor investments in creating a substantial pipeline of viable investments with climate expertise integrated into all channels of agri-SME finance.

Other takeaways from the report

  • There is an estimated US$160bn demand for financing from around 220,000 SMEs in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, but only US$54bn is being provided, principally by commercial banks. 
  • The accepted challenges around high costs to serve, high risk of agricultural markets and low levels of investment readiness amongst potential borrowers, are key limiting factors for agri-SMEs to engage with formal financial markets.

  • Most of the market is for sub-commercial capital, and even in the longer term, most agri-SMEs will never be in a position to access fully commercial capital.

  • There is a small group of high-potential agri-SMEs at the top of the market served by private equity, a much larger set of relatively mature companies in the middle financed by banks and a bottom of the market of lower-performing companies that are reached by highly concessional finance providers.

  • Currently, only 1.5% of global climate finance, approximately US$10bn is channelled to small-scale agriculture – almost all of which is provided from public sources and supports mitigation, not adaptation.

  • The significant and impending investment needed to build resilient supply chains with adaptation to climate change is met with a negligible capital flow towards agri-SMEs. Even if funds were made available, the infrastructure required to channel the finance to where they are needed is not currently available.

  • Increasingly sophisticated blended finance approaches and the use of specialised funds have opened up a range of potential mechanisms to drive investment towards agri-SMEs but there needs to be a greater understanding of the costs of subsidising these tools