• Awarded: 2005
  • Issue Areas: Economic Opportunity · Financial Services · Livelihoods · Smallholder Productivity
  • Region: Central America · Eastern and Southern Africa · Middle East and North Africa · South America · West and Central Africa
  • Web:
  • About the Organization

    Root Capital is a non-profit social investment fund that grows rural prosperity in poor, environmentally vulnerable places in Africa and Latin America by lending capital, delivering financial training, and strengthening market connections for small and growing agricultural businesses.

    Across the developing world, the rural poor are excluded from the formal economy. Most of these people depend on agriculture as their primary source of income. Without access to capital and viable markets for their crops, millions of small-scale farmers are trapped in a cycle of poverty.

    Root Capital clients are associations and private businesses that help create sustainable livelihoods by aggregating the products of hundreds or, in many cases, thousands of farmers. As of June 2015, Root had deployed more than $850M in credit via 1,800+ loans to 1.2M producers in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, sustainably managing 1.5M hectares of land.

    Root Capital’s lending is directed towards businesses that are too big for microfinance, but generally unable to secure credit from conventional commercial banks – “the missing middle” of developing-world finance.

    Access to capital and markets for sustainable products is the key to combat slash-and-burn farming, converting forests to pasture, and overharvesting wildlife,

    Root Capital to identifies producers ready to build environmentally sustainable enterprises improving the lives of smallholder farmers.

    Root Capital opened the door to investments by large commercial and public actors in smallholder enterprises producing sustainable products.

    More than 400,000 farmers have benefited, and a movement to invest in smallholder farmers worldwide is growing.

    Ambition for Change

    Tens of millions of smallholder farmers gain access to markets that pay fair prices for sustainably produced goods, improving their economic livelihood, food security, gender equity, and environmental stewardship.

    Path to Scale

    Demonstration and attraction of other investors to the sector
    Increase the number of farmers served directly by raising additional loan capital and expanding beyond initial Latin American portfolio to East and West Africa. Document outcomes including excellent repayment rates and encourage other capital investors to replicate the model to serve up to 45 million farmers in developing countries.

    Business Model

    Commercially viable and replicable lending model that supports greener enterprise. Philanthropic support for non-recoverable investments in capacity and market development. As the program expands, initial beneficiaries move on to become regular clients of the financial industry.

    William Foote was an investment banker during the Latin American growth years of the early 1990s. During the financial crisis that followed Mexico’s peso devaluation of 1994, he spent two years documenting what was happening to people and the environment, realizing that there was a whole sector of the farm economy – producers too big to be helped by microcredit, but too small to be commercially bankable – that could adopt more sustainable practices or launch sustainable enterprises if they could get training, credit, and support to access markets. He developed the program that became Root Capital to identify locations and producers with potential for conversion to environmentally sustainable enterprises, and to unleash the aggregate power of groups of smallholder farmers. The lending model combines loans with investments in the groups’ capacities, including financial training, strengthening of market connections, and mitigation of economic and environmental risks. By demonstrating that this segment of the agricultural economy can be bankable, Root Capital opened the door to investments by large commercial and public actors. By linking investments to markets for sustainably produced goods and services, the model achieves impact not only in improved livelihood, but in stewardship of natural resources upon which the producers ultimately depend.

    Impact & Accomplishments

    • Expansion to Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia
    • Built operations to >$100M in outstanding loans by 2015
    • Development of new financial instruments and expansion into new crop and market lending
    • Annual growth in loans, beneficiaries, and hectares under sustainable management, reaching over $850 million , 1.2 million farmers, and 1.5 million hectares in 2013.
    • Helped launch the Council on Smallholder Agriculture Finance group of social lenders and on the steering committee of the Initiative for Smallholder Finance.


    Brian MilderSVP of Strategy, Advisory & Innovation, Root Capital
    Catherine GillSenior Vice President, Investor Relations & Operations, Root Capital
    Willy FooteFounder and CEO, Root Capital

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