Impact investors find ways to de-risk support for Zambian agriculture SMEs

An Accelerator Program for agricultural SMEs in Zambia benefits 118,000 farmers so far, while catalyzing half a million USD additional investment into climate-smart agribusinesses - a more or less 200% return on the original investment in the program.

The world must invest more in African agriculture, if we have any hope of building more sustainable food systems for across the continent and beyond.

It's estimated that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in Africa’s agriculture sectors need an additional USD 226 bn of annual investment, to make farmers resilient enough to the expected impacts of climate change while meeting rising demand for food from a fast-growing population.  

Conflict, the lingering impacts of COVID-19, and accelerating changes in climate mean this investment gap will widen sooner rather than later.

More than ever, financial institutions and other investors around the world want to support projects that address the food, climate, and biodiversity crises, all the while still making a financial return.

The challenge is that investors are having trouble screening the market for suitable investment opportunities.

They are dissuaded by the high cost of assessing the sustainability impact of their investment, while struggling to get profitable returns on comparatively small deals.

The AICCRA Zambia Accelerator Program proposes a win-win solution for SMEs and investors alike.

In Zambia, we presented investors with a portfolio of rigorously sourced, vetted and investment-ready agribusinesses that generate financial returns.

At the same time, we provided smallholder farmers with climate-smart agricultural solutions, based on fifty years of science and innovation led by CGIAR, the world’s largest research partnership for food security.   

Here’s how it works.

The agribusinesses receive tailor-made technical assistance to improve their business operations, as well as their strategies for scaling climate-smart innovations.

Monitoring and quantifying the impact of this support to the SMEs, the AICCRA team are enriching the research ecosystem in Africa.

They are expanding the library of scientific knowledge and data available to researchers from Africa and beyond, who study the impact of agriculture on broader socio-economic development.

We've repackaged this scientific knowledge for investors, to help them understand whether and how the companies they invest in can generate positive, systemic change.

The AICCRA team and partners at the Zambia Impact Investment Summit 2022. Photo by Agricomm

Since the official kick-off of the AICCRA Accelerator Program in February 2022, it’s been a thrill to work closely with a cohort of 14 Zambian agribusinesses, who we grouped into five innovation ‘bundles', each focused on a different value chain or challenge specific to Zambia’s agriculture.

Within each of these bundles, several food systems champions tackled critical challenges along smallholder food systems value chains.

In one, the bundle team successfully formed a ‘fish chain’ coalition that operated a vertically integrated aquaculture business model, to promote integrated and efficient aquaculture production in Zambia’s Northern Province.

Another bundle team focuses on importing and distributing climate-smart inputs, including an bio-organic soil fertilizer approved by the US Food and Drug administration, which improve productivity and sustainability for farms smaller than two acres.

A third bundle team is making solar-powered water pumps accessible and affordable for smallholder farmers in Zambia, through pilots of pay-as-you-go financial solutions.

Thanks to an intensive investment-readiness program, implemented by Open Capital Advisors, one of Africa’s leading management consultancies, the cohort of agribusinesses was connected to a wide range of investors and other ecosystem actors.

At the 2022 Zambia Impact Investment Summit, the leaders of some of the high performing agribusiness in the Accelerator Program were connected to a wide range of investors.

AICCRA at the Zambian Impact Investment Summit 2022

With so many like-minded spirits in attendance—all eager to support and invest in sustainable solutions in Zambia—it was exciting to witness the interaction and interest that’s been sparked in Zambian SMEs thanks to the program.

“The piece where I think that AICCRA really adds value to our business, in addition to partnering us with organizations like Lima Links, is also introductions on the financing side. They’ve got some great relationships there, but they can also bring to the project their capacity to measure our impact.”

Russell Lyseight, Managing Director at Vitalite

The cohort attracted an additional 500,000 USD in grant funding from a USAID-led global crisis-relief fund that invests in rapid solutions for food insecurity.

The consolidated efforts of the AICCRA Zambia Accelerator partner portfolio has benefited the livelihoods of over 118,000 Zambian farmers, 36% of them women.

The complex financial, socio-economic, agricultural, and climate challenges we currently face call for bold solutions to mobilize resources and incentivize partnerships for positive impact.

The AICCRA Zambia Accelerator program shows how science can be used to catalyze finance into climate-smart agriculture for meaningful change.

If you are an investor or an agribusiness looking to generate impact at scale, don’t hesitate to get in touch.


Hauke Dahl, Scaling Lead for East and Southern Africa, International Water Management Institute (IWMI)