January 27, 2017

The future of small farms in a rapidly changing world.


Basel, Switzerland, January 24th – 25th, 2017

FAST’s International Relations Officer, Serena Thomson, participated in the “Future of Small Farms” conference, where a diverse group of organizations, such as private sector companies, NGOs, public agencies and academic institutions came together to discuss trends in the size and importance of smallholder farming, as well as the tools, strategies, and partnerships needed to support their livelihoods into the future.

Serena participated in a panel on risk management and financial inclusion, alongside Esther Baur (Swiss Re) and Stewart McCulloch (Vision Fund), and moderated by Olga Speckhardt

(Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture). They discussed the unique finance and insurance needs of small farms, and models that have been developed to meet those needs. Serena emphasized that an important component of financial inclusion is that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are supported in approaching financial service providers (FSPs), and FSPs are supported in developing a better approach to match the realities of rural enterprises. SMEs can benefit greatly from financial literacy and investment planning before reaching out to financial institutions, which is the heart of FAST’s mission.  

Many SMEs do not have their financial documentation in good shape or their investment needs clearly articulated, and do not know where to look for the right source of financing. This is where AXiiS, our [FAST’s] innovative matchmaking online platform, comes into play. By pairing the right financial service providers (FSPs), including impact investors and agriculture-focused funds, with the right credit-ready SMEs, the SMEs will be able to access a crucial pool of potential investment capital, and in parallel, FSPs will benefit from great investment opportunities.

The financial gap is still extremely large but FAST believes that we are currently living in a positive era for farmer finance. There are large opportunities for financial institutions to finance farmers, especially in countries where agricultural activity represents a large percentage of total economic activity. Partnerships between different types of actors (FSPs, NGOs, public agencies, commodity buyers, etc.) can channel capital more effectively and lower risk. FAST has an important role to play as it convenes multiple actors so that capital can be channeled to SMEs most effectively, opening the way for greater financial inclusion and growth in the agricultural sector in emerging economies.

Among the many discussions held during the conference, it became evident that many different kinds of partnerships are needed between the public and private sectors to address smallholder needs such as land tenure, access to markets and good prices, access to finance, and the right information to manage risks. To enable smallholders to grow their incomes and ensure the sustainability of their farms, the role of ICT in connecting farmers to agronomic information, markets and finance will be crucial.  As Syngenta Foundation’s Chairman Michel Demaré said: “Smallholders want chances, not charity.” This statement is well aligned with FAST’s values, and reinforces FAST’s intention to collaborate with many of the organizations present at the event on the themes of farmer enterprise development and access to finance.