One billion smallholder farmers around the world live in deep poverty. Their situation can be summarized as the tragedy of the four halves:
Smallholder farmers are trapped in a dysfunctional agriculture value chain. Smallholder farmers produce too little to be reliable suppliers for food processors and so food processors buy their input from farmers outside Africa. This lowers demand for African crops resulting in loss of income for farmers. Because farmers have little or no income, they cannot get crop input loans ensuring their farms will continue to produce low yields and poor quality crops.
Cheetah Development delivers a double bottom line: we improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers while making a profit. Cheetah Development’s business model has three components that are the foundation all our double bottom line enterprises:
1. Grow SMEs in the Agriculture Supply Chain
We use the “Micro Venture Capital” (MVC) investment model that specializes in agriculture and food value chains. We invest in agriculture value chain businesses that connect smallholder farmers to the market and integrate them with agribusiness supply chains. Our investment selection and development process identifies gaps in the value chain (rather than existing entrepreneurs) and fills those gaps with new businesses. We increase the likelihood of investee success by adding philanthropic risk capital during startup, lower costs by sharing back-office services across companies, and by using a rigorous replication process similar to franchising. Most importantly, Cheetah staff are on the ground in Africa, actively managing the companies in which we invest.
2. Finance Smallholder Farmer Crop Inputs
We focus debt financing on the “missing middle” of finance in the developing world, that is, loans larger than traditional microfinance amounts, but less than large scale project financing. We use an innovative and proprietary process called “Metafinance.” This model has drawn commercial bank attention and acceptance. In Tanzania, the Tanzanian Investment Bank has agreed to match financing for projects we run. This arrangement (1) leverages money other commercial banks put into SME missing middle finance, (2) provides accountability for all investments down to the smallholder level and (3) places loan enforcement at the local level.
3. Make Smallholder Farmers Investable
We manage smallholder farmers with the foundation assumption that they must become profitable commercial farmers that can participate in the supply chain as reliable suppliers. Farmer agronomy training is one example of how we put this assumption to work. NGOs and agribusinesses generally do training to achieve increases in yields and appropriate use of inputs. This is a laudable objective that we share. However, we view agronomy training as a means to an end, not an end itself. We train farmers so they can generate profits, repay input loans, and aggregate crops in quantities that are sufficient for agribusiness supply chains.
What We've Achieved
Our most important results are the improvement in income and livelihoods for the smallholder farmers in our farmers groups. Here are some of the most impressive results to date for our farmers:
- Increase income from an average of $20 free cash to over $200 in a single growing season
- Crop yields averaging 5 to 10x what was previously produced
- Significant nutrition improvements in farmer households
- Documented increases in spending for health, transportation, schooling and communication by farmer members
- 100% crop input loan repayment
We have achieved other milestones along the way, including:
- Created Metafinance model for debt financing of smallholders with over 30 key steps to ensure high repayment including the first ever village level credit rating algorithm and system
- Created Micro Venture Capital Model for equity investment of smallholder needed value chains that has resulted in multiple successful businesses and a high rate of predictability much like franchising.
- Acquired multiple local and African bank partners for our Metafinance model for smallholder debt including, securing agreement with Tanzanian Investment Bank for matching funds for Cheetah supported projects
- Patented a bicycle with ½ ton cargo capacity at low cost and high reliability (allows farmers increasing yields to 4000 kg/hectare to move output in only 4 days vs 80 if carrying on head)
- Marketing a proprietary, inexpensive, high volume solar dryer to preserve food for consumption by farmers or to sell
- Became first venture capitalist ever registered in Tanzania
- Recipient of USAID grants
- Collaborated with NGOs such as Africare, Fintrac, DAI
- Established strategic partnership with AFGRI (largest food and agriculture company in Africa) as strategic partner and had engagements with key supply chain partners such as Syngenta and Yara
- Many new business concepts under development ranging from farmer services, soil testing, transport bicycles, farming tools, dairy, horticulture, grains, grain storage, cold storage, and seed supply