The fourth, and for the first time, fully virtual SAFIN Annual Plenary Meeting took place from 19-23 October 2020. Convening SAFIN network partners and leading practitioners from different parts of the agri-finance ecosystem, this year’s event included fifteen sessions led by over fifty speakers, eight virtual exhibition booths and a vibrant networking hall.
The plenary took place in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, with agri-SMEs facing new challenges in accessing a range of financial services, finance providers considering how to continue serving agribusinesses while themselves remaining financially afloat, governments debating renewed lockdowns that may cause further disruptions in agricultural supply chains, and technical assistance providers re-examining approaches to support agri-SMEs to become more bankable and profitable.
The various sessions at the Plenary 2020 provided ample space for these diverse stakeholders to discuss such issues through thematic panels and deep dive sessions, and two consultations on new initiatives in agricultural and development finance. With 2020 as the final year of the SAFIN pilot phase, network partners also spent time reflecting on the journey traveled and the road ahead in four network design sessions. Below are some highlights from the Plenary 2020.
Thematic panels and deep dive sessions
Thematic discussions formed the bulk of the plenary programme. The topics of discussions included new technology-based innovations in Asia and Latin America, regional priorities in agricultural finance in Latin America, innovations in technical assistance and alternatives to collateral in agri-lending in Africa, and the experiences of farmers’ organizations in Asia and Africa in facilitating agri-finance flows. These sessions, which provided an opportunity for cross-regional learning and comparison, were proposed and co-designed by SAFIN network partners.
Network design sessions
As the final year of the SAFIN pilot phase, 2020 has been a key time of reflection for SAFIN partners on the achievements and challenges faced since 2018, and of planning for the main activities of the network during its next phase. Four network design sessions yielded prospective activity lines, indicators of success for the five focus areas of SAFIN 2.0. In the opening and closing sessions of the plenary, participants shared their perspectives on the state of the network’s health and proposed areas for further improvement.
Network café and exhibition hall
Similar to the pitch sessions at previous in-person plenary meetings, this year network partners showcased their new research and initiatives through a virtual exhibition hall. Eight institutions showcased their work in agri-SME finance including AGRA, ISF Advisors, APRACA, Al Fal Micro and Small Finance, PARM, the Yield Uganda Fund, and new network members Aceli Africa and CSAF. The plenary’s network café was open throughout the event, allowing SAFIN partners and guests to schedule one-on-one meetings or meet at random to form connections and explore opportunities to collaborate towards our shared vision of inclusive and effective agri-SME finance ecosystems.