Please login or create an account to join the discussion.
Investment power and protein report cover image - herding cattle

Investment, Power and Protein in sub-Saharan Africa: Conclusions 

Investment, Power and Protein in sub-Saharan Africa:

  1. Introduction
  2. Background
  3. Research Methodology 
  4. Sub-Saharan Africa’s Agricultural Investment Landscape
  5. Investor Visions
  6. National Subsidies and Global Market
  7. Conclusions 
  8. Glossary

Suggested citation:

Brice, J., (2022) Investment, Power and Protein in sub-Saharan Africa. TABLE Reports. TABLE, University of Oxford, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Wageningen University and Research.

This report has examined who invests in protein production in sub-Saharan Africa, what goals different groups of investors aim to achieve through making these investments, which protein sources and protein production systems they finance, and what theory of change leads them to think that making these investments will advance their financial and/or normative goals. This concluding chapter reviews the report’s key findings, reflects on its limitations and highlights possible directions for future research.

Key Findings

Initial desk research established both that sub-Saharan Africa attracts only a small share of global investment in agriculture and food production, and that private sector financial institutions provide only a small fraction (around 5.6%) of total investment in African agriculture. National governments, agribusiness corporations and DFIs appear to be the most prominent investors in African agriculture (African Development Bank Group, 2016). While quantitative data relating specifically to investment in protein production is scarce, the interviews conducted during this research suggest that DFIs, philanthropic foundations and impact investors also finance protein production across a broader range of protein sources, countries and value chain stages than mainstream commercial financial institutions such as banks and private equity funds. Purely commercial investors appear in most cases to be deterred from financing any enterprises except those located within the most consistently profitable value chains and companies and the most stable countries in order to avoid the perceived political and economic risks of investing in sub-Saharan Africa.

This makes it all the more important to understand what motivates the comparatively small group of investors who do finance protein production in sub-Saharan Africa to do so despite these risks. This project therefore used expert interview research to identify three distinct groups of investors who were motivated by contrasting values and objectives, which led them to differing conclusions about how and by whom this perceived future demand for protein should be satisfied. These three groups of investors therefore focused their investments on different protein value chains, production systems and geographical locations, leading this project to identify three distinct ‘investor visions’ for the future of protein in sub-Saharan Africa.

The first such vision, Smallholder Intensification, is held by a network of DFIs, philanthropic organisations and impact investors whose investments are intended to reduce poverty, combat malnutrition and facilitate sustainable development. These investors viewed investment in livestock production as a means of increasing the household incomes, food security and economic resilience of smallholder farmers and pastoralists – and thus of achieving broader development goals from the alleviation of poverty to the promotion of gender equality. While some of these organisations had financed beef production in the past, the focus of their investments has shifted over time towards poultry, egg, dairy and (to a lesser extent) aquaculture value chains due to concerns about the environmental impacts of livestock production. These organisations typically invest in initiatives designed to increase the productivity of smallholder farmers and pastoralists and/or to connect these producers to buyers willing to pay higher prices for their produce. As such, they generally focus on suppliers of feed, medicines and DOCs to small-scale poultry and egg producers, in dairy producer cooperatives and in dairy processing operations which purchase and aggregate or process the milk produced by cooperative members. These investors seek to finance projects which will benefit the poorest and most marginalised producers in sub- Saharan Africa, and therefore often invest in locations and enterprises which purely commercial investors might consider excessively risky. Such locations include much of Eastern and Southern Africa, as well as larger West African markets such as Nigeria and Ghana. In these locations they attempt to create a distinctive protein value chain structure in which relatively large input suppliers and processors (often financed by DFIs, philanthropic investors and impact investors) supply agricultural inputs to small scale producers and/or purchase, aggregate and process their produce to supply more lucrative sales channels such as domestic retail or restaurant chains. The prominence of philanthropic and DFI funding in agricultural investment in sub-Saharan Africa suggests that this may be the most widely held vision and be shaping the region’s food systems across the widest range of locations and value chains.

A second vision, Protein for Profit, is held primarily by private equity funds and commercial banks which seek simply to produce a competitive rate of financial return on their clients’ investments. These investors expect markets for animal products in sub-Saharan Africa (and thus the profitability of animal protein producers) to grow rapidly over time. However, they so far appear to be deterred from investing directly in livestock production in most sub-Saharan African countries by financial risks including political instability, volatile animal feed costs and competition from imported animal products. As a result, in most sub-Saharan African countries commercially motivated investors are willing to finance only the least risky investments. They therefore invest primarily in poultry and egg value chains because chickens have relatively short life cycles, meaning that such businesses are less exposed than other forms of animal protein production to political and economic shocks during the animal production cycle. Such investors have financed intensive, vertically integrated poultry and egg farms in a few of the region’s most economically developed and stable countries (notably South Africa) and sometimes also invest in dairy processors. Elsewhere, they have begun to acquire agricultural input suppliers serving smallholder poultry farmers established by the smallholder intensification network which have a proven track record of profitability. These businesses, they believe, can be expanded to create vertically integrated poultry or egg production companies if new opportunities arise to sell these products to restaurants, retailers and institutional caterers. Investment in smallholder intensification thus appears to be playing an important role in creating opportunities for private sector capital to become involved in financing protein production in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Protein for Profit and Smallholder Intensification visions often appeared to merge to some degree. However, the influence of commercial investors within the region appears at present to be concentrated within a small number of countries and value chains.

The vast majority of investment in protein production in sub-Saharan Africa appears to be channelled towards animal protein value chains. However a third vision, Protein Diversification, was held by a distinct group of venture capital investors which financed only alternative protein producers. These venture capitalists appeared to be motivated less by expectations of future financial returns than by concerns over the environmental sustainability and ethical desirability of satisfying expected future growth in demand for protein across sub-Saharan Africa through the expansion of livestock production. Such investors sought instead to satisfy this demand through financing companies manufacturing alternative protein products such as plant-based meats and milks in the hope that if these foodstuffs could be produced at a cost similar to or lower than that of animal products then they would become a mainstream part of diets across sub-Saharan Africa. As a result their investments were concentrated heavily in South Africa, where over half of all African alternative protein producers are located. However, this small group of venture capital funds had only a limited amount of capital to invest and African alternative protein producers appeared to have little access to other sources of investment. Their expansion was therefore constrained by limited access to finance, and alternative protein production in sub-Saharan Africa currently appears to operate on only a small scale. This report found no evidence of comparable investor networks focused either on insect proteins or on the production of protein-rich crops such as beans, lentils and pulses (except where funders of smallholder intensification invested in producing and processing soy for use in animal feed). This may partly reflect the difficulty of distinguishing investment in protein crops from other agricultural investment. However, it also suggests that investment in protein production in sub-Saharan Africa is overwhelmingly focused on animal protein production with plant and other alternative proteins remaining on the margins of major funding streams.

Limitations and Future Research

This report is based on a small exploratory research project whose purpose was to identify key groups of investors in protein production, to outline the goals and visions which motivate them and to establish which forms of protein their adherents prefer to finance. In so doing it has sought to provide an informed foundation for TABLE’s ongoing programme of events and publications exploring how (and by whom) power is exercised in the food system. As a result, the scope of this report’s underlying research is limited in several important ways.

First, due to a lack of publicly available data on investment in protein production in sub-Saharan Africa it was not possible to quantify the size of the financial flows mobilised by each of the investor visions identified during this project. As a result, this report simply presents the three investor visions outlined above and does not attempt to evaluate how successful the investors involved in each network have been in achieving their goals. Second, due to the limited time and resources available to the project, the three investor visions detailed in this report were derived from a small sample of expert interviewees. As a result, its analysis arguably operates at too large a geographical scale to capture any but the broadest patterns of variation in the ways in which these differing investor goals and agendas are interpreted and implemented across different countries and contexts within sub-Saharan Africa. In particular, this report’s broad geographical focus has made it difficult to capture the influence of national policy initiatives on the development of protein producing enterprises and value chains in individual countries. Finally, the report’s exclusive focus on investment in protein in sub-Saharan Africa means that it does not investigate whether or not the investor visions that it identifies are also salient within other regions of the Global South or explore what broader influence they might have on the development and transformation of global food systems.

As a result, this report’s findings raise several important questions which can only be answered through further research. First, how successful has each of the groups of investors identified in this report been in realising their vision for the future of protein, and in what ways might they be changing sub-Saharan Africa’s food system? Second, what role do individual countries’ policy and institutional environments play in mediating the implementation of these visions in practice, and how does this influence the development of protein production across sub-Saharan Africa? Finally, are the three visions identified in this report unique to investors in protein production in sub-Saharan Africa or are they applied to investment in – and actively shaping the development of – protein production across the Global South more widely?

In posing these questions, this report provides a foundation for three strands of further research into the role of investors in shaping the changing place of protein in sub-Saharan Africa’s food system, and perhaps the development of protein production across the Global South more broadly. First, researchers might undertake more detailed analysis of proprietary databases recording bank lending and private equity investment in agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa – and of the databases of individual DFIs and philanthropic foundations – in order to establish how large a quantity of capital is mobilised by investors aligned to each of the visions identified in the report. Such research might produce a clearer understanding of the relative influence of the three investor visions identified here and perhaps – through tracing the outcomes of key projects and companies funded by adherents to these different visions – evaluate the extent to which their objectives have been realised in practice.

Second, further research might take the form of more detailed case studies comparing the development of individual countries’ animal protein sectors, or of individual protein value chains within those countries, in order to explore the role of national policy and institutional frameworks in mediating the implementation of different investor visions on the ground. In so doing, such research might provide insight into the ways in which investors’ visions are translated and transformed as they are implemented in different political, economic and cultural contexts and into the ways in which these processes might be shaping the development of protein production across sub-Saharan Africa. More detailed and contextualised research of this type might also help to explain subregional and national variation in the outcomes of investment in particular forms of protein production.

Finally, future research might seek to extend this project’s examination of investor visions for the future of protein production into other regions of the Global South, such as South Asia and Latin America. In so doing, such work might expand upon the research presented in this report to develop a more nuanced understanding of whose visions for the future of protein might be shaping food systems across the Global South, of whether this varies across different regions and (if so) of what power relationships might account for these differences.

  1. African Development Bank Group (2016) Feed Africa: Strategy for agricultural transformation in Africa 2016-2025. Abidjan: African Development Bank Group. Available at:…

< Previous: Section 6                                                                                                      Next: Glossary  >

Post a new comment »

Login or register to comment with your personal account. Anonymous comments require approval to be visible.