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Innovating Agribusiness for Smallholder Farmers in Kenya

By Olivia Allen

Mike Behan, a 2013 graduate of the D’Amore McKim School of Business  is currently participating in a  fellowship with Root Capital  to work with smallholder farmers in Kenya. 

Root Capital is a nonprofit investing firm that provides financing to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Since its inception, it has disbursed over $500 million to 759,000 agricultural producers in Africa and Latin America. The social enterprise was ranked #12 on the list of the “100 Best NGO’s in the World.”

Behan is working within Root Capital’s innovation portfolio, which is focuses on lending in domestic value chains in local currencies, rather than export value chains in foreign currencies. Behan is conducting research on new viable crops including potatoes, dairy, aquaculture, and agricultural inputs in addition to the cooperatives in the innovation portfolio producing seeds, sorghum, honey, and seeds. He also works to gauge the profitability of of hybrid seeds for three cooperatives that produce high yielding maize varieties.

Prior to his fellowship at Root Capital, Behan completed two co-ops with Njabini Inc, a social enterprise he founded to provide employment to disabled Kenyan women. Njabini Inc, now a agribusiness positioned Behan to better understand his work with Root Capital partners. ”Living in Njabini for a number of years exposed me to the challenges smallholder farmers face and the opportunities availed to them through inputs, aggregation points, or agribusinesses much like many of the ones Root Capital finances,” said Behan.

Behan hopes to continue his work with Root Capital and the agricultural lending space in the future. “It has been an incredible experience working with a brilliant and committed team and it’s certainly taught me quite a lot about how social enterprises should operate.”

Having studied Root Capital’s model with the Social Enterprise Institute, working in the filed with Root Capital has reaffirmed Behan’s belief that Root Capital is truly  a trailblazer in the social enterprise space and has paved the way for agricultural lending.