Emeterra talks to investors about agribusiness projects

Jacob Robbins, the former managing director of global sweeteners at Coca Cola, plans to establish projects across Asia, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, predominantly in bioenergy crops.

Emeterra, the Singapore-based agribusiness enterprise set up by Jacob Robbins, the former managing director of global sweeteners at Coca Cola, is in talks with a range of private individual, family offices and high net worth investors about various projects it is planning to launch.

The firm hopes to establish businesses across Asia, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. It focuses on downstream products tied to bioenergy crops such as sugarcane, as well as crops that represent cost-effective sources of starch.

Investments will be made on a project-specific basis, according to Robbins.

“The aspirations of an investor might be product-related or region-specific and some might cut cross a few of them, but for the most part every project will have a unique investor profile,” he told Agri Investor.

Emeterra will maintain an equity stake in each project. The firm is targeting between three and four investors for each project, although it very much depends on its size and scope. Projects will most likely be up to $100 million in size although some will be more; the firm is looking at a $500 million sugar facility project in Brazil, for example.

The model is based on leasing and aggregating land for the production of agricultural raw materials, but also on using innovative agricultural technology to improve production and convert some crops into energy such as bioethanol, according to Robbins.

For this reason Emeterra is actively involved in the agtech sector, where it is partnering with several promising companies and research institutions.

“There have been lots of great agtech ideas but there has not been very much capital behind them. As a result, the level of innovation in the sector has been incremental, but low,” he said. “We don’t want to believe that we can solve the world’s problems but we can do a few things that could be game changing, especially as far as planting sugar and certain energy crops are concerned.”

As the technology side of the business develops and expands, working alongside venture capital firms is likely, Robbins added.

A Brazilian sugar facility is one potential project on the horizon. It will grow sugar cane on drip irrigation, which is relatively rare in Brazil, and hopes to use tissue culture technology to improve the crop yields. These factors on top of the tax advantages for local industrial customers of sugar make an interesting combination and an attractive investment prospect, according to Robbins.

Across the projects globally, local and regional businesses are expected to offtake a significant portion of the firm’s produce. All projects will have stringent traceability and sustainability policies in place.

“Sustainability and traceability have not always been seen as must-dos in agribusiness as they can be tough. In the past they were seen to detract from business and add to cost,” said Robbins. “However, there is now an understanding that what is good for the environment is ultimately good for business. It resonates with customers and more people want it.”

“Consumer perceptions are shaping the needs of the industrial customers that serve them and this in turn drives the demands being made on the processers and producers of agricultural produce. We are well-positioned to capture real value from what is not a fad or a trend, but rather a fundamental shift in how agribusiness will need to be run.”

Robbins also acts as senior advisor to Olympus Capital, an Asia-focused private equity firm that has been investing across the region for over 16 years.  Olympus Capital has a track record in three key industry sectors – agribusiness & resources, financial and business services and environmental & clean energy. Robbins is working on a range of agricultural processing opportunities.