Skip to main content
| Impact Stories

For Donors, GAFSP is Helping Smallholders ‘Build Back Better’


Iris Krebber, chair of the GAFSP Private Sector Window Donor Committee and Head of Agriculture, Food Security, and Land at the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, talks about the importance of blended finance for the agribusiness sector, her biggest development fears, and why, despite it all, she’s finally able to sleep at night.

As chair of the Donor Committee, what do you see as the GAFSP Private Sector Window’s most significant achievements in its decade of work?

GAFSP goes into high-risk, early-stage investment projects, and explores opportunities that other development finance institutions sometimes overlook. By offering concessional blended finance solutions to IFC to explore and further high-risk, high-impact food and agricultural investments, it’s helping challenge the established paradigm— particularly with investments that promote food and nutrition security, climate targets or that incorporate women into the value chain, rather than just at the production end. I’m particularly proud of GAFSP’s forward-looking advisory services. So many of the players in the sector are waiting for an investment that can deliver maximum impact with a high financial return from the outset—and they expect it to just to fall into their lap. That’s unrealistic, especially when investments are also needed to help reduce food insecurity in some of the poorest and most vulnerable places on earth. Real progress takes patience and, especially as donors, we can’t just put the money in and expect results to come out from the other end a year later. GAFSP has strong results and an important story to tell—particularly given that its achievements have been accomplished in a relatively short timeframe and in the world’s most challenging contexts.

What are some of the main challenges that you think GAFSP overall will face in the years to come, specifically in its work to support smallholders in the world’s poorest and more fragile countries?

I worry about inaction and the weakening of multilateral systems. As an international community, we need to do more to shore up agriculture and address growing food insecurity—but unfortunately, I think that we’re moving in the wrong direction. GAFSP was first set up as a multilateral solution to mitigate the impact of the food crisis in 2008-2009, a time when multilateral action was an unquestioned tool in the toolbox, particularly for traditional donor governments. With climate change, increasing conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation is only continuing to get worse, leaving more food insecure people at a time when many countries are focused inwards on their domestic needs. We need more and better multilateral action to deal with the food security emergency and address its root causes, but we don’t hear much about the latter, which is worrying. It seems that the world has gotten tired of a seemingly never-ending stream of bad and worse news. The world needs to overcome the pandemic so that together, we can truly build back better. Indeed, GAFSP is more important than ever.

You’ve talked before about the importance of securing investments in agriculture and donors’ tendency to provide humanitarian aid—often at the expense of livelihoods programming. Do you still see this trend—and where does GAFSP fit in in the development-humanitarian nexus?

We’re seeing a growing emergency, and donors have again shifted much of their long-term aid into humanitarian funding, which is needed to save lives, but is more expensive. We’ve found ourselves again at a stage where everybody asks why we haven’t invested earlier in livelihoods programming, resilience, and sustainable economic development. That raises the question of incentives—which is why GAFSP fits so well at the nexus of development and humanitarian work. The incentives should be to fund early, so that decision makers are working towards sustainable solutions and funding livelihood work before an emergency becomes full blown. Currently, however, this is not happening at scale, and so the key question is how to turn the situation around. If you look at some of the protracted crises or the chronic, recurrent, or acute emergencies, there are humanitarian actors in the short term that provide much-needed survival systems. But when these actors leave, very often, GAFSP is the only show in town on the development side. Programs like GAFSP—which are building climate resilient investment opportunities and help beat global hunger— need to be scaled up and quickly.

We last spoke at the beginning of the pandemic, when so much was still unclear about the impacts of COVID-19 on agricultural supply chains and food security more broadly. How has your view of the situation on the ground changed since then?

COVID-19 has exacerbated the food security and livelihood situation in many vulnerable geographies, where people are already being exposed to so many stressors, shocks and emergencies. It’s shocking that by now almost half the world’s population cannot afford a sustainable diet and nearly a billion people do not have access to adequate food on any given day. GAFSP reacted quickly to help stabilize where it could and keep supply chains going so that people at least had food on the table and were able to make a living. And it’s fast-tracking innovation and the greening of agriculture. Nevertheless, COVID, climate and conflict have led to the problem increasing faster than GAFSP can scale up given existing budgets. There’s a global responsibility to not look away—and to act to counter the downward livelihood spiral in many countries. Agriculture has a unique role—to improve people’s lives and livelihoods, without trading these off against prosperity or the planet—and GAFSP can help deliver a triple win.

What is the role of blended finance in furthering the food security agenda?

Agriculture is one of the most underfunded investment opportunities, and potentially has the highest development and climate impact. There is a traditional perception that agriculture is high-risk and if you combine that hesitancy with work in frontier markets— where many investors have only limited knowledge and therefore a higher risk perception than may be warranted — then there’s even less of an incentive to invest. Blended finance can help fill this space and create critical funding and investment opportunities. Agriculture remains four times as effective as other investments in reducing poverty fast and driving sustainable development in low and lower middle-income counties and so without blended finance, we’d
probably be stuck.

What’s the role of the private sector in SDG 2 and where does the GAFSP Private Sector Window fit in?  

Agriculture has two roles: to enable, support and accelerate sustainable and inclusive economic growth in developing countries on one hand, and to contribute to local, national and international food security on the other. It needs to be able to function in both ways, which the Private Sector Window has done well. An investment that improves food security but is not financially viable in the long term will not be sustainable. Conversely, a financially lucrative investment subsidized with development finance that is commercially sustainable but does not deliver impacts on food security and poverty reduction is not good value for money invested by taxpayers. GAFSP has a strong monitoring framework focused on maximizing sustainable contributions to SDG2 and is unique in that it goes back directly to beneficiaries and asks them how a GAFSP investment has impacted their food security. I haven’t seen that anywhere else.

Where would you like to see GAFSP in ten years?

I would so love for GAFSP to be able to sunset with the SDG target date of 2030 because that would mean it has done its job and we’ve hit our targets for SDG2. GAFSP was initially set up for ten years, but in 2018, we decided to extend it to 2030 as a key tool to support the SDGs. The world is not on track with the SDGs, however. I would like to see GAFSP in ten years having maximized its impact to achieve SDG2 and hit the triple win of greening agriculture, making more people food secure, and continuing to be a foundation for inclusive and sustainable economic development. It has the potential to deliver on all three but needs a lot more funding to demonstrate the full impact.

Under your leadership, and with additional support from the UK, there have been new synergies created between Private and Public Sector Window projects. Why has this been a priority for you? 

The public and private sector sides need to keep channels of communication open and act together where it makes sense. We don’t want to be in a situation where the private sector desperately needs a road in the western part of a country, but the public sector is investing in roads in the east only. Especially in fragile contexts, these conversations need to be deepened so that the private sector can participate in discussions at an earlier stage to inform and be informed. And of course, it remains difficult. In many of the most challenging countries, we donors have incentivized these partnerships, but it’s often one step ahead and two steps back, particularly in countries that have not yet stabilized. And while I think that the public and private sector need to talk, align and better sync their work, I feel strongly that we don’t need to be evangelical about it and force them together when it doesn’t make sense.

Last time we spoke, I asked you what kept you up at night. This time, I’ll end on a more positive note: Is there something in the broader development landscape that gives you hope—and helps you sleep better at night?

Looking back on a busy year—where we worked hard to drive more effective action on agriculture and food security through the UK’s G7 Presidency, the Glasgow Climate Conference COP26, and other bilateral and multilateral efforts—I can say that I am able to sleep well. We have accomplished a lot and see substantive common ground, particularly among like-minded donors. Unfortunately, the challenges have also grown, with COVID-19 having turned an already worrying food insecurity situation into a full-blown large-scale emergency. We’re also seeing increasing conflict, fragility and food insecurity, including famine conditions, in places like Ethiopia and Afghanistan, with skyrocketing food prices that hit the poor hardest. The world needs informed, evidence-based and resolute leadership to help steer us through this really challenging situation and back to a positive trajectory. GAFSP’s investments in agriculture for better food security, greener outcomes, and inclusive and sustainable economic development are an important multi-lateral solution, and I am pleased that the most recent call for proposals for the public sector and producer organizations has been so popular. All of the GAFSP stakeholders—myself included—need to better tell the story of this high-impact initiative.


Impact Stories