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The Fund at Sankalp Africa Summit 2021

The Fund at Sankalp Africa Summit 2021

Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity and Fund participant Apollo Agriculture participated in a session at the Sankalp Africa Summit 2021, called ‘Keeping It Real: Unlocking Financial Services to Accelerate Access to Quality Basic Services’. 

The Sankalp Africa Summit has over time become known as an annual networking, knowledge-sharing, and capital-raising platform that brings together key enterprise and finance ecosystem players including investors, donors, financial service providers, enterprises among others drawn from across Africa and the world.

In line with this year's theme: ‘A Resilient Africa - Forging Solutions for the Impact Economy’, the Sankalp Africa Summit 2021 event included a session on financial services and its importance in accelerating access to quality and affordable basic services among the low-income communities in Africa.

The Fund Deputy Team Leader, Grace Mberia, presented alongside Elizabeth Mastors, Chief of Staff to the CEO at Apollo Agriculture during a panel discussion at the event on Thursday 4 March 2021 titled - ‘Keeping It Real: Unlocking Financial Services to Accelerate Access to Quality Basic Services’. The discussion was aimed at showcasing how innovative agri-finance interventions impact agriculture value chains in Africa. It looked at how these interventions can be scaled up and how this in turn leads to improved well-being for end beneficiaries. Apollo Agriculture is one of 38 participant organisations supported by the Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity.

During the session, Elizabeth shared Apollo Agriculture’s story and experience as a start-up      that incorporates access to finance as a way to scale agriculture services and solutions to      low-income populations in Africa. She explained that Apollo Agriculture helps farmers in Kenya improve their productivity and maximize their profitability by providing an all-in-one farming bundle that includes financing, agri-inputs, insurance, advice, and other inputs, which together enable best-practice cultivation. She also highlighted that Apollo’s technology platform leverages mobile technology, satellite data and machine learning to make reaching farmers profitable and scalable.

Apollo’s ultimate goal is to help farmers transition from subsistence-level maize farming to more commercial farming over time. The company has grown significantly over the years and raised US$ 6million in series A funding at the end of 2019, to scale its services. Elizabeth emphasised that financial support from the Fund had played a pivotal role in allowing Apollo adequate time to innovate, experiment, and implement their business plan during the start-up phase, due to the long term and flexible nature of the grant.

During the session, Grace discussed the role of innovative financing models in agriculture, siting the approach of the Fund itself and its portfolio of innovative agri-financing interventions. The Fund has so far delivered at least 146 innovative financial products and services by supporting some 38 participant organisations across Sub-Saharan Africa. By deploying a challenge fund approach, the Fund is contributing to building markets by transforming rural financial services while reducing market distortion and inefficiencies. The Fund strives to remain innovative while responding to market needs. For instance, 12 participants in the portfolio were selected to receive additional funding during the Covid-19 pandemic to bolster recovery and resilience.

Grace highlighted the lessons learnt from the diverse nature of projects supported by the Fund such as:

  • the need for constant engagement with farmers while adapting product and service offerings to meet their evolving requirements;
  • the need to strike a balance between risk and speed of scaling e.g. how to increase the average loan size and still have a well-managed portfolio risk;
  • the importance of building strong partnerships to ensure financial access and quality across all levels of agricultural value chains.

She highlighted that many organisations working with farmers are still trying to prove their business models and their ability to become sustainable, and noted that without long-term patient capital such as long-term debt, equity, grant funding, blended finance, and concessional loan financing, many struggle to succeed.

Grace went on to indicate that the Fund follows an intentional approach to gathering data, generating insights and packaging them for key stakeholders. This is done through participants’ self-reporting, in-depth impact studies, site visits and beneficiary engagement, learning events and ongoing analysis of reporting data. Some of the parameters measured include new customers, financial services and products usage, job creation (including gender and youth), commercial performance, financial literacy capacity building and number of products launched.

Sankalp Africa Summit 2021 provided an opportunity for exposure to various private, public and NGO sector organizations, as well as engaging opportunities with peer institutions. This activity contributed to creating further awareness about the Fund and Fund participant Apollo Agriculture’s achievements. In addition to disseminating learnings, the session involved the Fund in discussing practical solutions to empower and transform the lives of rural farmers and communities in Africa through financial inclusion.

 

Images accompanying this article are courtesy of Accion Venture Labs @2021

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