Founded in 2010, Mountain Lion Agriculture (MLAg) operates the largest rice miller in Sierra Leone and offers the only local rice brand in the country. The SME aims to improve the lives of Sierra Leoneans by replacing lower quality rice imports with higher quality rice produced domestically. As a farmer-focused business recognized for its promotion of training, seed distribution, equipment rental, access to market and environmentally-friendly farming techniques, MLAg employs over 40 full‑time staff and 120 seasonal workers.
In 2013, MEDA provided $500,000 in convertible debt financing to MLAg to strengthen the rice sector in Sierra Leone through a rice paddy out-grower model. The business model of targeting an increase of outreach to over 5,000 suppliers aligned with MEDA’s approach of promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth. To support the company’s growth, MEDA provided business advisory support including a seat on MLAg’s Board of Directors. In 2014, MEDA and MLAg were recognized for its impact investing partnership and awarded the “Moving Money That Matters” Innovator Award at the Social Finance Forum in Toronto, Canada.
With funds from Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund, MEDA provided technical assistance during 2013-2017 to expand MLAg’s supply chain management capabilities and promote synergies between suppliers’ interests and the firm’s business model. MEDA’s support included strategies to improve agricultural yields of smallholder farmers and to enhance rice aggregation processes. This included the development of an integrated data management system to track suppliers, production models and purchase orders. Kiva Microfunds built off the data architecture created during MEDA’s consultancy to connect MLAg farmers with microloans. To date over 4,300 farmers have accessed loans totaling over $1 million.
With MEDA’s support, MLAg increased staff wages to earn 1.5 times more than the local wage and receive comprehensive healthcare and pension plan. More recently, the Sierra Leone Agricultural Development Fund and a Dutch organization supported MLAg to upgrade its facilities and further develop its smallholder supply chain. At the end of 2018, MLAg milled over 1,290 metric tons of rice and supported 7,400 farmers, many of whom are women.
Given the operational and financial challenges faced by MLAg due to a combination of the Ebola crisis, late supplier payments, and an overall difficult development landscape, payments on MEDA’s loan have been slower than anticipated. Despite delayed repayment, MEDA understands its role as a patient and long-term investor, appreciating that it will take time for the business and overall economy to stabilize. MLAg’s CEO has an expression, “fire either destroys or purifies. These experiences have purified our company.” MEDA remains optimistic as reflected by MEDA’s Chief Financial Officer, “We knew investing in MLAg was going to be difficult. We continue to be impressed with their resilience to operate in an extremely difficult operating environment.”