Meros gives keynote address on Overseas Agricultural Investment and its Potential Application in the Japanese Agricultural Investment

Meros’ Managing Director Chisa Ogura delivered the keynote address on “Overseas Agricultural Investment and its Potential Application in Japanese Agricultural Investment” – a webinar organized by Nishimura & Asahi Law Firm (Tokyo) on April 15, 2021.

Meros hosts J-IIN’s first webinar on impact investing and impact measurement

While things have been in a state of adjustment these last months with COVID 19 restrictions in place, we are moving our discussions online!   To kick it off, Meros hosted the Japan Impact Investing Network (J-IIN)’s first webinar on June 4 on the topic of  “Impact Investing 101”.  Some of the key topics that were discussed in the lively after-discussion among the participants included

  • the potential impact of COVID19 on impact investing
  • whether there has been any progress in analysis and information exchange on impact investing failures
  • how widely the GIIN IRIS indicators can be disseminated
  • what kind of education can be provided to Japanese investors, and whether impact investing really has the potential to become a main stream investment strategy

Meros, J-IIN and Impact Investing in Agriculture and Food

The Japan Impact Investing Network has been active since the end of 2019, promoting discussion of practical experiences and case studies around the concept of Business with Impact. While impact investing is gaining recognition internationally as an important investment strategy, in Japan impact investing still has an image as a non-profit, corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity. In addition, Japan’s presence on the international stage often remains limited due to investment interest focused more on domestic issues than global issues.

The Global Steering Group for Impact Investment (GSG) had been created under UK leadership of the G8 In 2015 and in Japan, the Global Steering Group (GSG) Domestic Advisory Committee was established around the same time. Japan’s first domestic impact investment fund was launched by Shinsei Corporate Investment in 2017. However, the Japan Impact Investment Fund has focused on domestic issues such as women’s activities, welfare, education, and energy, and has not put much emphasis on agriculture and food.

Globally, food and agriculture sector has attracted some of the greatest attention within impact investing, and  impact investment has become an important way for entrepreneurs involved in food and agriculture to raise funds. In the past two years in particular, impact investing and impact evaluation have become common topics of discussion at global agricultural investment as well as foodtech and agri-tech events.

This was the impetus for Meros join J-IIN as a founding member- to deepen our own understanding of impact investing, particularly within food and agriculture and to give back to Japan, by contributing our own experiences and global perspectives.

J-IIN was created as a place where both entrepreneurs and investors with links to both Japan and overseas business can gather and communicate informally and learn to “speak the same language” about measuring and defining impact.

J-IIN’s Impact Investing 101 Webinar

 J-IIN’s first webinar was designed to provide an introduction to impact investing and was attended by about 10 institutional investors, VC funds, entrepreneurs, and consultants.

Most of the participants were Japanese and involved in businesses or investments both inside and outside of Japan. For many of the participants, impact investing and measurement of impact were somewhat new topics but all were very interested in discussing practical issues and challenges.

The key speakers at this inaugural event were J-IIN’s founders, Mr Takuro Kimura , president of G-cubed Partners who is based in Tokyo and NYC and Ms. Sawa Nakagawa, founder of Three Arrows Impact Partners who lives in South Africa. Mr Kimura introduced the philosophy and international trends in impact investing and Ms Nakagawa discussed Social Impact Evaluation and Management. Here are some of the highlights of their presentations.

Tak Kimura: Philosophy of Impact Investment and Impact 101

Mr. Kimura spent many years working at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), investing in emerging markets in the manufacturing, agribusiness, services and energy sectors. IFC is part of the World Bank Group and is responsible for investing in the private sector in emerging markets. IFC’s strong performance over the years (15% above the S&P 500) makes it a strong example of how it is possible to combine both market returns and creation of social or environmental impact

Mr Kimura discussed the background of impact investing. The concept of impact investing was first adopted by the Rockefeller Foundation in 2007. In 2013, the G8 Task Force on Social Impact Investing was formed. Today, impact investing has grown to US$500 billion, with an annual growth rate of 26-50%.

The basic principle of impact investing is that if an investment does not create social impact, there can be no investment, despite what the financial returns may be. While some impact investors are philanthropic and are willing to accept a slightly lower expected return, the majority of impact investors seek both return and impact, and seek a financial return that is commensurate with the risk, while also seeking to create social impact. In order to create sustainable impact, the core idea is that impact must grow by scaling the business, rather than by trying to attract more philanthropy funding.

The challenge for impact investing in the future is that numerous institutions are taking the lead in setting standards for impact investing, and this is resulting in multiple standards are being developed. It is therefore important for Japanese stakeholders to be actively involved in these international discussions and to participate in the movement toward the unification of principles and standards.

Sawa Nakagawa: Social Impact Evaluation and Management

Ms. Nakagawa is the founder of Three Arrows Impact Partner, an impact investment and social entrepreneurship advisory firm based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She provides consulting services on impact investing to private investment institutions and government financial institutions in various African countries, as well as assistance to social entrepreneurs in building impact evaluation and management systems. She is also a board member of the National Empowerment Fund, a South African government agency that invests in entrepreneurs from historically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Globally, the extreme poor still account for 10% of the world’s population. 2.2 billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water, the number of refugees and displaced people has surpassed 70 million, and the total economic damage caused by droughts in developing countries is US$29 billion (2005-2015). In order to measure progress on solutions to these  problems, the United Nations has set the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is estimated that an annual investment of 2.5 trillion dollars (about 280 trillion yen) is needed to achieve the 17 SDG targets. Since the investment by international organizations and governments alone is far insufficient, it is necessary to actively utilize private investment.

Why do we need social impact assessment and management in the first place? The first reason is that the establishment of an impact evaluation and management system will enable private investors to make decisions about potential investment based on this system, which in turn will promote the use of private funds and is the key to making impact investment a mainstream and expanding form of private investment.

The second reason is that entrepreneurs who aim to attract impact investment funding and their investors also need to be able to define the desired social impact, monitor the social impact of their business activities, and make further improvements. Just as in the pursuit of economic returns, quantifiable indicators for impact are necessary to set KPIs and implement the PDCA cycle.

The key case study in the presentation was I&P, an impact investment fund that invests in social entrepreneurs in Africa. It invests in more than 50 companies and has 70 million euros in assets under management. I&P has created a framework of social impact assessment tools and processes based on the internationally recognized IRIS indicators developed by the global impact platform Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) and it was this system that was introduced as part of the case study.

Every year, GIIN obtains data from entrepreneurs, based on more than 100 indicators, and analyzes the broader social impact of its portfolio companies and their stakeholders to provide information to investors. This allows a  better understanding of the scale of social impact, and at the same time, this data gives entrepreneurs that ability to show these results as a tool for raising funds on a larger scale.

Social impact assessment and management is still in the process of global trial and error and that is what makes it such a dynamic and important area to watch.

J-IIN will continue to create opportunities for communication and dissemination of information around impact investment and impact measurement. Please contact us if you are interested in joining future discussions.

Five Key Trends in Global Agricultural Land Investing

The Global AgInvesting Asia 2018 conference was held October 2nd and 3rd at the Tokyo American Club, marking the third time the event has been held in Tokyo since it moved from its previous host city of Singapore. The event aims to help Japanese institutional investors gain a better understanding of overseas agricultural investment opportunities and what makes these opportunities attractive. The event was an interesting chance to hear updates on a wide range of topics, including agricultural land investment as real estate investment, investment into agricultural distribution businesses, opportunities in agritech and developments in agricultural insurance.

Because agricultural land investment is a dynamic investment area, with growing interest from institutional investors, here is a summary of some of the key trends in agricultural investing, based on presentations and discussions at Global AgInvesting Tokyo as well as on our own knowledge.  A pdf version of this discussion can be downloaded at the end of this post.

A Global AgInvesting Panel with Takuma Yoshida (Chief Executive Officer, SEIRYU Asset Management, Ltd.), Masaya Hara Managing Representative, Albourne Partners Japan), Yoshifumi Kida (Manager, Foreign Equity and Alternative Investment Department, Nippon Life Insurance Company), Akitoshi Yamada (Managing Director & Head of Japan, Patheon Ventures (Asia) Limited).  Photo: Meros Consulting

Trend 1: Agricultural land investment greatly increased in the 2010s

Investment in agricultural land by institutional investors such as pension funds had been growing gradually since the 1980s, but had become increasingly controversial in the early 2000s. A 2008 report by the international non-profit GRAIN gained widespread attention for its analysis of increasing global farmland investment and their characterization of this foreign investment in agricultural land as land grabbing. Large-scale investment in agricultural land was hit with heavy criticism, especially as agricultural commodity prices were soaring at that time due to tight supply. Still, according to financial data service Preqin’s database on fund procurement by agricultural land investment funds, agricultural land investments by institutional investors accelerated further in the 2010s after the financial crisis eased.

This acceleration in agriculture and agricultural land investments was driven by institutional investors such as pension funds, government funds, university funds and large family offices. Institutional investors have been looking to expand alternative investments and farmland investment has become an attractive option for balancing risk and return. Agricultural land investment can become a way to hedge risk, since farmland prices are continuing to increase and there is relatively stable revenue from land rent or agricultural product sales. The fact that agricultural investments have a limited relationship with traditional asset investments such as stocks and bonds is also a plus.

Interest from the agriculture side in attracting funding has also increased significantly. South America, particularly Brazil, has abundant unused farmland and Eastern European countries such as the Ukraine still have opportunities for investing in large-scale agricultural development. Even in developed countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States, farmers are increasingly borrowing land from investment funds who have purchased farmland, and investment funds themselves are increasingly entering the farm management business. This is because farmer debt is rising in these countries, as farms try to increase scale for greater efficiency, while the capacity of individual farmers to continue to buy new farmland is limited. When farmland is consolidated under an investment fund and put up for sale, it is common for another investment fund to purchase the whole piece of land rather than selling plots separately to individual farmers.

Trend 2: An investment model has been developed for managing agricultural land investments

One reason behind the increase of investment funding for farmland is the development of an investment model to manage agricultural funds, using US-style limited partnerships.

Source: Meros Consulting

Agricultural land management requires highly specialized management capabilities. There are diverse risk factors to cope with including unpredictable weather and changing market prices; operational environments and systems differ greatly from one region to another. However, thanks to the growth of fund management companies with General Partners (GP) who are specialized in managing farmland in specific regions or countries, an investment model has been established where foreign institutional investors such as pension funds who have no background in local agricultural situations can participate as a limited liability partner (LP), without being involved in management and only receive dividends.

Major agricultural land fund management companies include TIAA Asset Management under the umbrella of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA), which possess about 770,000 ha of grains, oil seeds, sugar cane and wine grape production in Australia, Brazil, the US, Eastern Europe and other regions through multiple funds; Hancock Agricultural Investment Group under a major life insurance company Manulife, which holds about 140,000 ha of fruit trees, nuts, grains and other farm produce production mainly in the US, Canada, Australia; and Proterra Investment Partners, an investment team formerly part of Cargill which invests in agricultural land and businesses in Australia, the US and Asia.

Trend 3:  Investments have been slightly slowing recently due to lower returns

On the other hand, some funds are withdrawing from agricultural land investments. For example, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, a public pension investment organization which purchased about 97,000 ha of farmland in Canada and the US after 2012, revised its plan to expand agricultural land investments in 2017 and has decided to focus more on down-stream agricultural industries such as distribution. This is due to the fact that almost half of their farmland was located in Saskatchewan, Canada where regulations on agricultural land investments were tightened, and also because land investments did not proceed as expected in Australia, New Zealand and Brazil. [1]

In addition, global market prices for agricultural products have recently been decreasing, and the situation is becoming even more uncertain due to the US-China trade war. The price of agricultural land has soared due to inflow of investment funds, and so the return on agricultural investment (total of income and capital gains) is decreasing. As such, agricultural investment is slowing compared to the past, even though agricultural investment by institutional investors is continuing to increase.

Trend 4: There is a growing perception that agricultural land investment can have positively impact sustainable development and environmental goals

Despite the recent slow-down, investment in agriculture is still considered to have promising prospects in the mid to long term, given the increasing global population and the need to grow food supply.  Compared to 2008, when concerns about land grabbing created intense controversy, agricultural land investment has gained a more positive image over the last 10 years and institutional investors have increasingly been able to use their agricultural land investments as evidence of their commitment to responsible ESG (Environment, Society and Governance) investing or their support of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

As a response to concerns that foreign agricultural investments were simply land grabs, the World Bank and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) jointly formulated the “Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (PRAI)” in 2010. This reflected the UN’s “Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI)” enacted in 2006, which laid out guidelines for institutional investors to incorporate consideration of ESG issues into their decision-making process. ESG investments are expanding and the number of institutions that have signed PRI exceeded 2,000 in 2018.

At the same time, the concept of “impact investing”, initially advocated in 2007 by the Rockefeller Foundation, has also steadily gained mainstream acceptance, as seen, for example, by the establishment of the G8 Social Impact Investment Task Force at the 2013 G8 Summit. As a result, the idea that investment, if done carefully, can have positive social impact became increasingly widespread.

The SDGs adopted at the 2015 UN Summit further strengthened this trend. Unlike past global development goals, the SDGs target not only developing countries but also developed countries and encourage the active involvement of private enterprises to contribute to reaching the SDGs. In particular, agricultural land investment has been seen as potential tool for achieving Goal 2, “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”.

In other words, there is growing discussion about how responsible agricultural investments can contribute to solving global food challenges through environmentally friendly and sustainable farmland management, as well as by optimizing limited land and water resources.

Trend 5: Japanese institutional investors are beginning to show interest in overseas agricultural investment 

Japanese institutional investor Nippon Life Insurance Company (Nissay) announced a JPY 10 billion investment (around USD 90 million) in an Australian farmland investment fund from the Hancock Natural Resource Group under Manulife, in April 2018. It is the first farmland investment by a large Japanese life insurance company. Also, SEIRYU Asset Management, a fund operator of the Japanese Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), has also started working with a forestry investment fund abroad and, according to our discussions at Global AgInvesting, expects to continue exploring farmland investment opportunities.

Japanese companies do have strong interest in foreign investment. However, there are few successful cases of agricultural investments. In 2018, Mitsui closed its Brazilian subsidiary Multigrain, its grain production and distribution unit, and other Japanese companies have hesitated to enter the agricultural land investment market. Still, with the entry of Nissay into the market this year, there may begin to be more interest by other Japanese companies, who carefully watch the first movers.

[1] Reuters, 2017.4.27, “Exclusive: Canada’s CPPIB pension fund plans farmland retreat – sources”

Five Trends in Agricultural Land Investment 2018 (Meros Consulting)