The official opening of this year’s AGRF Deal Room was on Day One of the AGRF 2020 Summit. Although virtual in 2020, it had the same remit – to provide a matchmaking platform that drives new business deals and commitments. Companies were seeking finance, mentorship and market entry, while financial institutions looked for investment opportunities. Governments, this year particularly Rwanda, were on hand to oil the wheels of progress. More than 800 companies logged into the Deal Room and uploaded their profiles
The focus was on four main themes:
• Investment opportunities to help feed Africa’s cities
• Access to finance, especially for women-led SMEs
• Ways to enhance sourcing in Africa
• New ways to help investment and access finance
It began with expectations for the Deal Room. Zeina Mouawad, Senior Investment Officer at The International Finance Corporation (IFC), outlined hers. She described the Deal Room as “a unique way to develop our reach and learn from clients we don’t normally get to interact with in ordinary circumstances.” She went on to explain how this is especially important with the restrictions imposed by COVID-19.
Victoria Sabula CEO of AECF, explained that their feeder funds are ready and waiting, but they need to find viable investments. ‘Connect’ is their brokerage service and raises capital from investors and lenders to ensure continued financial support from other investors. Availability of money does not seem to be a problem. HE Peter Vrooman, United States Ambassador to the Republic of Rwanda pointed out the banks have plenty of money, he sees his role as holding the hands of businesses and matchmaking them to the right banks. Dr. Thouraya Triki, Director, Sustainable Production, Markets and Institutions Division (PMI), IFAD, concurred that investment is not an end in itself. "Although it is often said it's not a lack of finance, it's a lack of investment opportunities - it's actually a bit of both.”
SMEs are pivotal to the sector, Chris Isaac of Agdevco, described them as the engine of growth and development everywhere, “it all starts with agriculture – it doesn’t just grow crops, it grows formal firms” that go on to become integral parts of a country’s economy.
The Deal Room launch also heard from companies looking for investment. Entrepreneur Roseanne Mwangi is a pioneer in the field of potato processing in Kenya. Her company, GAEA Foods Ltd. processes potatoes for the local urban market. She is looking to expand into the frozen fries market to expand the starch sources available to urban dwellers and believes in responsible production and consumption.
The second sequence began with words of encouragement from Gilbert F Houngbo, President of IFAD before the official launch by Dr Agnes Kalibata, who was asked why invest in Africa. Her answers were compelling: Agriculture in Africa is a USD 3 trillion industry, it is the fastest urbanizing continent and cities must have affordable food, which makes for huge business opportunities, underscored by two things: its youth and the number of people engaged in agriculture. As for where the money should be invested, Hon. Clare Akamanzi, CEO, Rwanda Development Board advocated for Rwanda. She described its many attributes: low risk, safe, women-friendly and one of the fastest growing economies on the continent.
A great start from this year’s Deal Room.