Using Impact Investing to Grow the Indigenous Agriculture and Agri-Food Economy
For much of the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada, agriculture and fishing was of critical economic and cultural significance. With an intimate knowledge of the land and sea and deep respect for environmental stewardship, many Indigenous communities excelled in agricultural production, before and during colonization. While Canadian colonial policy suppressed Indigenous agriculture for much of the last 150 years, Indigenous Canadians today stand poised to reclaim their stake in the agriculture sector. Indigenous participation in agriculture has risen dramatically over the last 30 years, buoyed by a growing population, extraordinary rates of entrepreneurship and renewed interest in re-establishing Indigenous food security. These promising trends, however, are tempered by the reality that Indigenous agriculture and agri-food producers and entrepreneurs face a disproportionate number of obstacles as they break into and compete within the agriculture sector. In exploring the opportunities for growth in the Indigenous agriculture and agri-food economy, this report has four key findings, as follows.
Indigenous Participation in Agriculture is Modest but Growing Rapidly
Indigenous participation in the agriculture and agri-food economy has lagged non-Indigenous participation but there are promising signs of growth. A few statistics illustrate these participation trends:
- In 2016, the Indigenous agricultural population represented only 2.7% of the general agricultural population despite Indigenous peoples comprising 4.9% of Canada’s general population
- The median revenue and operational land area of Indigenous agricultural operations remains significantly lower than those of non-Indigenous operators
- The Indigenous agricultural population is younger and features greater women representation than the general agricultural population
- Between 1996 and 2016 the Indigenous agricultural population increased by 21.4%, while the total agricultural population shrank by 39.3%
Disruptions between the Supply Side and Demand Side of Capital Remain the Greatest Impediment to the Indigenous Agriculture and Agri-Food Economy
Access to capital is a critical component to growing Indigenous participation in the agriculture and agri-food economy. A wide range of capital providers can use different tools and policies to help unlock capital and meet the range of needs of Indigenous agriculture and agri-food entrepreneurs:
- Traditional financial institutions. Indigenous banking has become a competitive market segment but antiquated legislation and a lack of customized support for Indigenous clients impairs the flow of capital from the commercial sector. Banks and credit unions can work with Indigenous stakeholders to improve the product-market fit of service offerings.
- Indigenous and agriculture-focused financial institutions. Quasi-governmental lenders like Aboriginal Finance Institutions (AFIs) and agri-focused Crown corporations remain effective in providing funding to stimulate agricultural entrepreneurship in Indigenous communities. However, they often lack the funding or structure to support Indigenous businesses looking for more sophisticated financing, particularly equity financing.
- Governments and related entities. Government capital continues to comprise a massive share of capital accessed by Indigenous entrepreneurs with most of it taking the form of grants, contributions and transfers. The Government of Canada has begun to explore impact investing as a more effective way of stimulating growth and can use the Social Finance Fund as a model for further stimulating the participation of private investment capital.
- Impact investors and foundations. Among institutional investors and foundations practicing impact investing, Indigenous reconciliation is becoming seen as a critical issue. Indigenous agriculture holds significant appeal as the nexus of Indigenous empowerment, food sovereignty and environmental sustainability. As awareness grows, these actors can play a larger role in providing investment capital to Indigenous agriculture and agri-food entrepreneurs.
Non-Capital Barriers Continue to Hinder the Growth of the Indigenous Agriculture and Agri-Food Economy
While capital barriers remain the most critical, reducing other key barriers will contribute significantly to growing the sector and facilitating the participation of private capital. These key barriers include:
- Access to land and infrastructure. The high cost and complexity of acquiring land and the inadequacy of public infrastructure in Indigenous communities compound the overhead incurred by Indigenous producers, making agriculture financially prohibitive for many.
- Policy and regulatory challenges. The complex and bureaucratic processes surrounding securing of grants and enrolment in government programs prevents many Indigenous agricultural entrepreneurs from accessing the support that they need and lack of clear coordination between multiple branches of governments leads to a lack of accountability.
- Skill and knowledge gaps. For decades, colonial policy restricted Indigenous participation in business and agricultural production, leading to an erosion of technical and business capacity within Indigenous communities.
Impact Investing Can be a Powerful Lever to Unlock Capital for the Indigenous Agricultural Economy
Impact investing could be a powerful tool for stimulating additional capital into the sector and for helping to address the wide range of capital needs. Different actors can support each of these capital needs:
- Early-stage equity. Greater partnership is needed between Indigenous and non-Indigenous investors and can result in things like Indigenous-focused angel investor networks and partnerships and Indigenous impact investment funds to increase the Indigenous agriculture and agri-food pipeline.
Commercial financing. Large values-aligned lenders, such as Indigenous and agriculture lenders can expand on dedicated programs for Indigenous entrepreneurs and work to broaden pipeline for investment opportunities. Banks and credit unions can also expand their programs and seek to address more than just small business lending needs.
- Concessionary capital. Governments can play a major role in acting as guarantors in the financing of Indigenous agriculture and agri-food business. Foundations and governments can catalyse investment in Indigenous impact funds by taking first-loss reserve positions or a lower return investment series to help bring in traditional investors.
- Grant and follow-on investment. Governments and foundations can improve integration between granting and investing to provide a synergetic approach to stimulating Indigenous agricultural entrepreneurship.
Indigenous Works and Rally Assets partnered on this research in recognition of the significant untapped potential of the Indigenous agriculture and agri-food economy and the role that private capital can play to catalyze this potential.
“Impact Investing in the Indigenous Context”
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