Stories tagged: root capital

Agricultural Businesses Are the Key to “Decent Work” in Rural Communities

Decent agricultural work can be a vehicle for economic growth. Kristin Williams, Communications Manager at Root Capital, tells Farming First how investments can empower smallholder farmers.

Farming is hard work. This is especially true on the world’s 500 million smallholder farms, which rely almost entirely on informal family labor. There, farmers rise before the sun, and toil in plots of land just large enough to grow food for the table and perhaps one or two crops for sale. Sudden shockslike drought, flood, or diseasecan wipe out the fruits of their labor in an instant. If they’re lucky, they can get their crops to a nearby market; once there, they have little recourse if buyers refuse to give a fair price.

Billions of people make their living in this difficult way. And it’s no coincidence that they comprise much of the world’s extreme poor, surviving on less than $2 per day. But the connection between farming and poverty is not a foregone conclusion. Yes, farming is hard work; but with targeted investments it can also be “decent work.”

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#FillTheGap! Esperanza brings hope for female leaders in Peru

This is the third post of Farming First’s #FillTheGap campaign to highlight the gender gap facing rural women working in agriculture.

Closing her eyes for a moment, Esperanza Dionisio Castillo recalls one of the first meetings she attended as a cooperative leader in San Martín de Pangoa, central Peru. “There wasn’t a single woman there,” she said. “More than a hundred men, all of them stunned, looking at me like some sort of rare insect.”

Peruvian women have often fallen into the gender gap when it comes to employment and leadership roles. Most do not join the formal labour force with two thirds finding work and income in the informal sector, according to a 2012 report. In 2007, more than a quarter of rural women had no education compared to just seven per cent of rural men.

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International Women’s Day: Eight Women Who Have Filled the Gender Gap in Agriculture

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2018, IFDC‘s Deputy Director for North and West Africa Oumou Camara blogs for Next Billion, sharing the stories of eight extraordinary women that have succeeded in bridging the gender gap in agriculture. Read the original post here.

Women account for more than 40 percent of the agricultural workforce worldwide but they own less than 20 percent of the world’s land, earning just a fraction of what their male counterparts do.

As the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women explores how to empower rural women, Farming First is sharing stories of women all over the world that are bridging this gap in agriculture.

Jahanara Begum: Proof is in the profit in Bangladesh

In a country where less than 60 percent of women are economically active, female farmers like Jahanara Begum, 45, face negative comments and scepticism from their communities and even their families. But for Begum, the results spoke for themselves after she became a Farm Business Advisor and started selling vegetable seeds and other inputs like fertilizers, vermicompost and pest management tools to farmers with the support of PROOFS (Profitable Opportunities for Food Security), a Dutch-funded project led by iDE and partners. Jahanara used previous contacts in her network to her advantage – not only to reach 250 producer groups as part of the project, but to go beyond that to reach more groups in the remote riverine islands. She later took out a loan from a financial institution, overcoming social norms and gender bias to expand her business and strengthen her linkages with private companies. Her business track record ensured that the financial institution did not deem her too risky to give out the loan.

Jahanara Begum, Farm Business Advisor (Photo: iDE PROOFS)

Esperanza Dionisio Castillo: Climbing the ladder in Peru

As Esperanza Dionisio Castillo rose up the ranks to become general manager of the Pangoa Cooperative, a cocoa growing union in San Martín de Pangoa, Peru, she found few other female role models to follow. She experienced greater scrutiny and mistrust in leading the cooperative as a woman. But after proving herself by bringing higher and more consistent incomes to rural families, Castillo wanted to ensure that other women found an easier path. So she offered rural female members support through health services, leadership training through the co-op’s Committee for the Development of Women and access to credit via social investment fund Root Capital.

Esperanza Dionisio Castillo, General Manager of C.A.C. Pangoa

Fatima Nadinga: Credit where it’s due in Burkina Faso

Accessing credit is often a challenge for smallholder farmers, and it is even harder for women. That’s why a USAID-funded project implemented by non-profit CNFA is training women in the “warrantage” credit mechanism. The system allows farmers to use their grain as collateral to obtain credit from a bank or microfinance institution rather than selling their harvest all at once. Under this system, farmers like Fatima Nadinga can deposit their crops and access credit to invest in their farms and generate more income, while also strategically selling their crops at the highest price.

Josefina dos Santos Lourenço: Give a little to get a lot in Mozambique

Josefina, a young Mozambican, had aspirations of owning her own business. But she wasn’t earning enough selling food at her small market stand to support her family. Her situation is not uncommon; women account for almost 90 percent of the work force in Mozambican agriculture, but represent just a quarter of the land owners holding official user rights. But Lourenço’s prospects improved when she was recruited by Export Marketing Company Limited, a major agricultural trading company, with support from Fintrac’s Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation program. Lourenço received three training sessions in the first six months and a 50 percent discount on her initial inventory of inputs, like fertilizer and crop protection products for her input shop. She now serves almost 1,000 farmers and has become financially independent.

Lidia Grueso: Paying it forward in Colombia

In Colombia, where women make up 40 percent of the cocoa growers’ association COMCACAOT, Lidia Grueso, 41, has already overcome gender bias and prejudices to become a union manager. But the five-year-old association has still faced the challenge of accessing credit and loans for its members. USAID’s Rural Finance Initiative has helped individual farmers access loans, vouching for almost 375 of its members. This allows women to afford inputs like fertilizer to improve their business and to better pay the staff harvesting the cocoa.

Yinka Adesola: Field school founder inspires youth in Nigeria

After attending trainings sponsored by IFDC’s 2SCALE project, Yinka Adesola learned how to increase farm productivity with good agricultural practices and integrated soil fertility management. She was also taught business management strategies such as marketing and selling crops. She knew she needed to inspire others with what she had learnt. “I wanted to hold other trainings to attract more youth to agriculture, to show that agriculture is a lucrative business,” she says. Now, every three months, trainees from all around Nigeria come to her field school, the Entrepreneur Youth Multipurpose Cooperative, to learn vegetable production and farm management.

Ethel Khundi: Doubling down on diversity in Malawi

The impact of the gender gap in agriculture worldwide results in a yield gap of up to 30 percent because women are unable to access the same resources as men. But a Self Help Africa program in Malawi has trained female livestock keepers in conservation farming techniques that use zero tillage to safeguard moisture in the soil, allowing them to diversify their farms. As well as raising her pigs, Ethel Khundi, 36, has also been able to produce three times more maize, which was a valuable insurance when she lost her entire drove of pigs to swine flu. Instead, her maize harvest offset the losses and kept her on track to expand her home and set up a village shop.

Ruramiso Mashumba: Female agripreneurs on the rise in Zimbabwe

Agribusiness in Zimbabwe is dominated by men, of whom almost 70 percent are employers. Meanwhile, women are much more likely to work unpaid in agriculture than to be a paid full-time worker. Yet women like Ruramiso Mashumba are blazing a trail for more female agripreneurs. After returning to farming in Zimbabwe following her studies in Agriculture Business Management at the University of West England, Mashumba was elected as the national chair of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union Young Farmers’ Club in 2014. She also founded Mnandi Africa, an organisation that helps rural woman to combat poverty and malnutrition by empowering and equipping them with skills and knowledge in agriculture. 

Learn more about the rural women filling in the gender gap in agriculture at, or follow #FillTheGap on social media.

How Agricultural Businesses Can Stem the Tide of Youth Migration

By Will McAneny, Communications Associate at Root Capital. This post originally appeared on the Chicago Council’s Global Food for Thought blog.

Agriculture forms the backbone of many rural communities in the developing world. But this is neither the tech-driven “big ag” nor the hyper-local “farm-to-table” agriculture that we’ve grown accustomed to in the United States. For too many people, it can barely be called subsistence farming: backbreaking labor with little profit. Two billion people in rural communities—the majority of whom depend on agriculture for a living—earn less than $2 per day. That’s not enough to get a degree, launch a career, or start a family.

Seeing a lack of opportunity in the only industry their community offers, young people leave in droves. Rural youth drive many of the world’s great migrations—from Mexico and Central America to the United States, or from West Africa to North Africa to Europe. Many begin by searching for work in cities in their home countries, which lack the infrastructure to support such an influx. When, by necessity, they move on to the United States or Europe, they learn that opportunities are scarce for young migrants.

A demographic crisis

Overladen boats capsizing in the Mediterranean or Caribbean. Exhausted people clinging to freight trains as they hurtle through Mexico towards the United States, not knowing whether they’ll be turned back when they arrive. These stories have become so frequent that they’re nearly routine.

In too many cases, the mass exodus of rural youth puts them in harm’s way. At the same time, it separates millions of families, while depriving rural communities of the talent they’ll need to succeed—a form of “brain drain” that leaves these areas with limited local leadership. There is a moral imperative to make migration something that works for young people and the communities they leave behind, rather than simply being “the best worst option” for millions of farming families.

But there’s also a logical imperative. The global population threatens to soar above 9 billion by the year 2050, meaning that soon there will be a lot more mouths to feed on a worldwide scale. At the exact moment that we need young people to start stepping into leadership roles in global agriculture, more and more of them are leaving farms behind.

We have more young people than we’ve ever had before, but they lack the support and incentives they’d need to make growing food a viable career choice. It’s a ticking time bomb. But it’s a problem we can solve.

At 23, Suyen José Gonzalez Centeno is one of the youngest members of Solidaridad, a small coffee cooperative in Nicaragua. (Root Capital)

Addressing the crisis

The topic of immigration often stirs heated debate. But what such debates often fail to address are the circumstances that drive millions of people to leave their home communities in the first place. To solve the problems caused by mass migration, we need to combat its root cause: massive inequality between the places migrants seek out and the communities they leave behind. Considering that a vast amount of international migrants come from small, rural communities, we should start by investing in the agricultural sector.

There’s a big reason why agriculture in the United States and Europe looks so different than in many rural communities in the global South. Federal, state, and local governments pour billions into farmer subsidies; private capital firms throw their support behind agricultural powerhouses like General Mills and Cargill; universities create undergraduate and graduate programs for young people who want to pursue sophisticated careers in agriculture. Even though the agricultural sector forms a relatively smaller portion of the economy of the United States compared to Honduras, the prospects to the north are greater.

In contrast, agriculture in the developing world suffers from chronic underinvestment. Many farmers struggle to reap the rewards of their labor; disconnected from larger markets, they’re forced to sell the food they grow to middlemen who take a cut of their already slim profits. But when they join a business—for example, a cooperative that aggregates the products of a thousand farmers, sells them to an international buyer at scale, and distributes the profits evenly among its members—everything changes. Businesses like these have the potential to create jobs, raise incomes, pay farmers on time, and offer pathways out of poverty for some of the world’s most vulnerable families. A coffee cooperative or sorghum processing plant forms the heart of many a rural community.

But all too often that heart is starved of the resources it needs to beat. Businesses in rural communities find it difficult to access credit, their staff is often undertrained, and—with extreme poverty inciting many young people from farming backgrounds to take a chance elsewhere—they lack the talent pipeline they need to innovate, adapt, and thrive.

Since 1999, Root Capital has loaned $1.1 billion and provided financial and agronomic advisory training to more than 650 agricultural enterprises, from cooperatives of indigenous coffee growers in Guatemala to staple grain businesses in Ghana and Senegal. More and more, we’ve been targeting businesses that offer young people the opportunities they deserve: businesses that invest in young farmers, position agriculture as a viable long-term occupation, and create space for young people to lead. Take our client COCAFELOL, a coffee cooperative in Honduras, which trains local youth in practical skills related to coffee farming. After these young people complete high school, they become eligible for specialized courses in financial management, organic agriculture and agronomy, and barista training. Young people gain marketable skills—and the cooperative hires them after graduation, acquiring a steady crop of young talent.

Looking to the future

Financing and training agricultural businesses is Root Capital’s bread and butter. But it’s not just agricultural lenders like us who play a role in stemming the tide of youth migration. We need partners.

For example, through the Partners in Food Solutions initiative, employee volunteers from multinational corporations like Cargill, General Mills, or Hershey partner with agri-entrepreneurs across sub-Saharan Africa to tackle their strategic and operational challenges. These businesses are addressing food security in their communities; and, with support, have the potential to employ dozens of young professionals in regions where jobs are scarce. We’ve also collaborated with the Mastercard Foundation to set up leadership workshops to coach young managers in goal-setting, decision making, and team management, priming them for career advancement and success. And through the Coffee Farmer Resilience Initiative, a multipronged alliance of corporate, public, and philanthropic funders leveraged blended capital to help coffee cooperatives throughout Latin America address la roya, a crop disease that threatened to exacerbate mass migration by imperiling the coffee crops that young farmers depend on. All three projects create jobs for the young people most in danger of leaving their farming communities. They also ensure that the agricultural leaders of the future are prepared to address the ever-more pressing global challenge of food security.

The rising tide of youth migration represents one of the greatest demographic challenges of our time. But with the smart application of investment, training, and partnership in the places that need it the most, we can transform that challenge into a massive opportunity.

Featured images – Sean Hawkey ©

Senegalese Women Revive Appetite for Traditional Grains

In order to double productivity and incomes and meet SDG2.3, many small food producers need access to finance to get their businesses off the ground. Will McAneny at Root Capital tells Farming First about an innovative business in Senegal that is empowering women and improving nutrition, as part of the Farming First #SDG2countdown.

After years of watching working mothers switch from feeding their children Senegalese grains to imported rice, Bineta Coulibaly decided to take action.

Traditionally in Senegal, women would use locally produced, nutrient-rich millet flour to make couscous, arraw (small balls of flour cooked as a porridge), or thiacry (small steamed balls of flour) by hand in the home. However, as Senegal began to industrialize and more women entered the workforce, they began to choose a cheaper and easier alternative: rice imported from abroad.
While this rice was less expensive, quick to cook, and readily available, it was less nutritious than millet. And, as foreign rice quickly gobbled up close to 70 percent of the market share of staple grains that millet had formerly occupied, many Senegalese farmers who had grown millet for years began to lose the market for their crops.

Determined to increase demand for high-quality local grains and create opportunities for farmers, while addressing the needs of working mothers like herself, Bineta founded La Vivriére in 1992.
The business – based in Pikine, a suburb of Dakar – takes locally grown millet, maize, black-eyed pea and an indigenous West African grain known as fonio and turns them into all-natural, nutrient-rich cereals. By doing so, it makes healthy staples of traditional Senegalese cooking widely available to working mothers, but in a way that’s as easy to prepare as rice. Additionally, Bineta strives to create jobs for women in her community who, like herself, seek to earn a living working in agroprocessing.
Of La Vivriére’s 76 factory workers, 63 are women – many of them their families’ primary breadwinners, who would have struggled to find another job that pays as much.

However, for years La Vivriére lacked the working capital it needed to purchase the volumes it required directly from farmers. Without access to sufficient financing, La Vivriére had to purchase local cereals from intermediaries, who held on to a portion of the profits that would otherwise have gone to some of the country’s poorest farmers.

In 2013, Root Capital began to finance La Vivriére with an initial general working capital loan of $100,000. With this, La Vivriére was able to minimize its dependence on intermediaries and begin to source directly from farmer associations.

Since we began financing La Vivriére five years ago, Bineta and her team have started working directly with several producer organizations in the central Kaffrine and Kaolack regions of Senegal. These organizations also partner with USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative, which provides training on best practices, traceability, and quality control, with an emphasis on sustainable agriculture.
By leveraging capital and training from Root Capital and Feed the Future, La Vivriére today is ensuring that over 900 farmers in one of Senegal’s most vulnerable regions earn higher incomes.

La Vivriére still faces challenges. For example, Bineta and her team continue to look for a machine that will enable the company to mechanize the process of turning millet flour into the balls used for couscous, arraw, and thiacry. But now that the company has access to a steady source of capital, Bineta is optimistic about the future.

“Thanks to the financing and collaboration we’ve received from Root Capital, we’re at the point now where we can secure high-quality raw materials in sufficient quantities and at stable prices,” she says. “This is essential for the effective development of businesses like ours.”

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#IamAg! Meet Rolando, Risk Analyst at Root Capital

This is the second post in our new series “I am Agriculture”, that showcases the many careers available to young people in agriculture. Today’s post comes from Rolando Corrales, who is a Risk Analyst at Root Capital.

As a child I wanted to be a policeman, but my mother was quite scared by the risk associated with the profession. I also wanted to be a fireman, so I could save people and rescue cats from trees! In the end, I studied administration with an emphasis on banking, finance and accountancy. I had always been good in that area which I consider to be an art form, interpreting the numbers we use every day. Continue reading