Yasser Toor is managing director in DFC’s Office of Development Credit, where he heads the agency’s new food security transaction unit.
How did the food security unit come about?
This is a joint initiative pioneered by DFC and USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security to use all of our tools to combat hunger in developing countries. The businesses in food supply chains in these countries are often regarded as risky investments and supporting them requires sector specific expertise and a willingness to deal with complexity. Following the launch of DFC a year ago, which granted the agency additional latitude to support the agriculture sector, this initiative was formed to ensure that smallholder farmers and small agribusinesses receive the attention necessary to succeed and grow.
How did you come to work in this role?
I started my career working for a private equity firm focused on branded food and beverage products, which led me to become interested in food systems. I went on to join the office of then-U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, working in Sierra Leone on the country’s private sector development strategy, which had an enormous agricultural component. That led me to join the Africa Agriculture Development Company (AgDevCo) as one of its original directors to help build out its investment strategy in West Africa. Working at DFC to advance global food security is the culmination of many things I’ve worked on over the past 20 years.
How is COVID-19 impacting food security around the world?
Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are regions of serious concern because they have the greatest food insecurity in the world. Initially there was concern that lockdowns would break supply chains. The good news is that didn’t happen. However, moving goods has become more expensive, leading to a sharp increase in food prices. This impacts poor communities the most and could result in greater hunger and malnutrition. An additional concern is that a lot of rural microfinance institutions that support small farmers are starting to see defaults that will affect their ability to lend. At DFC, we are leaning in to support our existing clients through emergency liquidity facilities and we are proactively working to put together new lending facilities to support these microfinance institutions.
What are some of the other ways DFC is working to advance food security?
We are working to strengthen local and rural supply chains. This means investing directly in SMEs—on which most of the food that is consumed in Sub-Saharan Africa depends—as well as in intermediaries and funds that support these companies. We are also focusing to collapse the distance between small producers and consumers through investments in businesses like Twiga, which works to connect Kenya’s rural food producers to its urban vendors; and Milk Mantra, which sources milk from tens of thousands of smallholder farmers in India.