The baobab trees of West Africa, gigantic in size and majestic in stature, are providers: They store water and food for animals in times of drought; they provide homes for birds (owls, parakeets and hawks) throughout the year; and, for many local families, the mighty baobab produces fruit, seeds and leaves that provide a critical source of income.
Earlier this month, I spent time in remote corners of Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire alongside Root Capital colleagues and accompanied by my 15-year-old daughter, Charlotte Foote. As impressive as the baobab giants were, we were even more inspired by the other great providers we came to meet — namely, farmers and, on this particular trip, women entrepreneurs helping to transform agriculture and agroprocessing in their home countries.
Under a scorching African sun, we tagged along as Root Capital’s West Africa team conducted due diligence on seven prospective and renewal clients. In northern Senegal, we met with an agricultural enterprise representing 1,200 women farmers who have come together into seven women’s groups and are now cultivating nearly 350 acres of rice and onions. They’re looking for a loan from Root Capital to help them finance new equipment in their rice processing plant, along with working capital to pay women farmers up front to bulk their crop at harvest time. As this innovative, high-impact business applies for its first-ever loan, Root Capital’s Advisory team is providing them with financial management trainings that will help the growers take on credit with less risk. Accessing capital will allow the enterprise to increase its supplier base, empowering more women to provide for themselves and their families.
Back in the capital city of Dakar, we met Madame Ahounou, who sources millet and maize for her agroprocessing facility from women farmers across rural Senegal. In collaboration with the Geneva-based Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), her company fortifies its popular baby food product with micronutrients and provides mothers with a means to guard against child malnutrition. Like the mighty baobabs that dot the horizon, leaders like Madame Ahounou, providing sustainable livelihoods and sustenance to women and their families, stand like giants.
African enterprises like Madame Ahounou’s are in the business of feeding one of the world’s fastest-growing populations, so having the necessary financing is essential. Earlier this month, inspired by the great opportunity that businesses like Madame Ahounou’s represent, Root Capital, in conjunction with KfW, the German Development Bank, and AgDevCo, launched the Lending for African Farming Company. The company will finance agricultural enterprises throughout Sub-Saharan Africa that enhance local food security and stimulate inclusive economic growth in the region. It’s another instrument in Root Capital’s toolbox for growing rural prosperity that will deepen our ability to serve clients in local and regional food markets in a way that adds to our existing lending.
From the baobab trees of the Sahel to the millet and maize fields of East Africa to the bounteous harvests that we’ll all need to feed the planet in the coming decades, here’s to helping men and women entrepreneurs and smallholder farmers provide a more sustainable food system for themselves, their families and their local communities.