The underserved middle in agriculture investing – What is it and why does it matter? 

This webinar was held on Wednesday 27 January at 12 (noon) GMT. This was the third webinar in a series, which will run on the last Wednesday of every month. It was also the last of three sessions that focused on ‘Stronger, Greener and Fairer Recovery”. 

This webinar debates the impact potential of investing in the “underserved middle” versus investing in larger and better established agribusinesses, often referred to as elephants (read CASA’s paper on “Bridging demand and supply”).

The discussion featured the following CASA research brief:

Summary: The webinar reflected on financing gaps and needs. The discussion draw on published data and market analysis to provide clarity to the investor community and their financing partners opportunities for investing in SME agribusinesses sourcing from smallholder farmers. 

Download the One-pager: The Underserved Middle webinar at a glance

Intended audience

Impact Investors; Development Finance Institutions; Commercial Lenders; Agri-Business companies; Investment Promotion Agencies; Agri-Business Experts; Donors; NGOs and Think Tanks.


00:00-04:00Welcome by Alice Chapple
Introduction to CASA and the Agribusiness Breakthrough Webinar Series
04:01-11:58Mat Hague
Presentation of “The Underserved Middle: Defining excluded enterprises in agricultural value chains”
13:06-21:40Louise Fox
The Brookings Institution
Presentation of arguments for concentrating on better established agribusinesses

23:10-31:15Brian Milder 
Aceli Africa
Presentation of arguments for focusing on the Underserved Middle
32:20-40:00Daniel Hulls
Presentation of arguments for transitioning from smaller deals into bigger ones
41:38 -60:00Audience questionsWhat do you feel is the way SMEs will evolve, and what is the role of technical assistance and concessional capital? 
Can investment in agriculture compete with other uses of finance like treasury bonds?
What is the impact of Covid-19 on investment?
What will increase African bank lending? And what local interventions can help?
How can larger parts of the eco-system support SMEs?
Alice Chapple
Wrap-up and take aways…
Report mentioned in closing session: Role of Government in Rural and Agri-Finance: Transitioning to private sector involvement 

Speaker biographies

Mat Hague

Mathias Hague (panellist) is the research technical adviser at the CASA programme. He plays a leading role in the development and commisioning of the programme’s research portfolio. He is also the lead author of “The Underserved Middle: Defining excluded enterprises in agricultural value chains”. Mat has almost 20 years of experience working on monitoring and evaluation across the world.

Brian Milder

Brian Milder (panellist) is the founder and CEO of Aceli Africa. Previously, as chief innovation officer for Root Capital, he led the impact and advisory teams and designed impact-linked finance mechanisms to expand lending for new borrowers and support tree crop replanting. He is also a co-founder and serves as director of The Council on Smallholder Agricultural Finance (CSAF), an alliance of 16 impact lenders that promote industry standards and best practices for agricultural SME lending globally.

Daniel Hulls

Daniel Hulls (panellist) is the chief executive officer at AgDevCo, where he has played an important role since 2011. He is an investment, public policy and development professional with over 25 years of experience in both the private and public sectors. Daniel was the founding director of CEPA (a UK-based finance and economics consultancy) and was managing director until 2009. Prior to that, he worked for N M Rothschild in project finance and asset sales, and at the UK Treasury. Daniel has a BA in history and economics from Oxford University and an MSc in economics from University College London. He was a non-executive director and chair of the finance and audit committee at Community Housing Group.

Louise Fox

Louise Fox (Panellist) is a non-resident senior fellow in the Africa Growth Initiative (AGI), which is part of the Global Economy and Development Program at the Brookings Institution. Her work at Brookings focuses on youth employment, inclusive growth, and poverty reduction. Her previous positions included chief economist at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), visiting professor of development economic policy at the University of California, Berkeley and various positions at the World Bank, including lead economist.

Alice Chapelle

Alice Chapple (Moderator) is an economist and a specialist in impact investment and impact assessment. She is CASA’s investment Adviser and she established Impact Value in October 2012. Prior to this, Alice worked as director of sustainable financial markets at Forum for the Future. She also worked as financial analyst, fund manager and social and environmental advisor for the CDC Group. Alice’s current roles include chair of Investor Watch, independent chair of the CDC Plus (Technical Assistance) Committee, trustee of the Shell Foundation and member of the advisory boards of Sainsbury’s Foundation, Frontier Finance Solutions and Connected Asset Management.

About the series

This series of webinars features evidence and analysis by the CASA programme and partners to support the commercialisation of agriculture in emerging markets. The series is aimed at investors, investor supporting institutions and a range of groups that have a direct impact on the investor climate for agri-business. The topics and design of the series showcase solutions to the most common challenges in agri-business for inclusive growth and support investment facilitation in agriculture in emerging markets.  

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