Dr Verghese Kurian, the ‘Father of the White Revolution in India’ and the pioneer behind Amul, once said, “India’s place in the sun would come from the partnership between the wisdom of its rural people and skill of its professionals”. This partnership between farmers and technology and finance professionals has found its space in the growing Indian agriculture technology (agtech) sector. (Above image of the team at Arya.ag)
One startup playing a pivotal role in harnessing this partnership is the Noida-based Arya.ag founded by Prasanna Rao, Anand Chandra, and Chattanathan Devarajan in 2013. Valued at USD 300 million after raising USD 60 million in Series C funding earlier this year, Arya.ag is today ‘India’s largest grain commerce platform with a physical presence in 21 states across 425 districts’, says Prasanna Rao, co-founder and managing director.
“The process here is really driven by this idea of creating a partnership between the wisdom that is available with our farmers, and the professionalism and technology that we bring on to the table. We are not here to redeem farmers of their problems, but to leverage on their wisdom to create sustainable and highly scalable models,” says Prasanna, speaking to The Better India.
With a niche focus on offering integrated post-harvest services, Arya is leveraging technology to bridge the last mile by building a strong agritech and fintech platform.
“Being the only agritech startup that has been profitable since inception, the entire lending business of Arya.ag has also been NPA (non-performing asset) free,” he adds.
What does Arya.ag Do?
In a conversation with The Better India, Prasanna claims that their digital platform provides visibility to over USD 2 billion worth of stored grains across 10,000 commodity storage points with a footprint of over 100 million square feet. Arya’s revenues are built on the four pillars of the agChain – Aggregation, Storage Solutions, Financing Solutions and Market Linkages.
“As farmers harvest their grain, Arya.ag assists them and Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) in aggregating the produce, bringing in homogeneity and transparency. Arya’s Aggregation Services deploy Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) to establish grain quality right at the farmgate. Each aggregated grain bag gets converted into an electronic balance visible to its producer. Without storage solutions, farmers are forced to sell in distress immediately after harvest when prices are at their lowest,” explains Prasanna.
Arya digitises warehouses and enables farmers to select and book a warehouse closest to them at the click of a button. Upon booking, the electronic grain balance is held by the farmer on Arya’s digital platform. For rural locations that do not have warehouses, Arya offers IOT enabled on-demand ready to install hermetic storage (10,000 MT).
“With produce stored, addressing the farmer’s immediate cash flow needs is imperative. With the third pillar of the agChain – financing solutions – Arya facilitates adequate and timely finance to farmers through its own balance sheet and in partnerships with banks. An ‘automated decision engine’ offers finance against the electronic balance on its fintech platform,” he explains.
And finally, they offer farmers and FPOs market linkages – Arya facilitates listing of the farmers’ electronic balance to a large ecosystem of buyers across the country.
“This enables the farmer to realise her rightful returns and part of the sale proceeds go towards closing the loan freeing her from blocking her cash flows. The complete visibility of quality and assurance provided by Arya.ag guarantees peace of mind for the buyer,” he adds.
Motivation Behind Arya.ag
Prior to establishing Arya, Prasanna worked extensively in roles encompassing cooperative marketing and FMCG sales with large companies like the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (Amul) and Coca-Cola. Following his stints at companies like Amul and Coca-Cola, Prasanna went on to work for eight years in ICICI Bank, where he headed the Agri-commodity finance business and managed a peak portfolio of USD 500 million for the bank.
“Having worked in Amul, Coca-Cola and ICICI, I understood how to think from the producer and the consumer’s perspective. I also realised how most formal institutions have been working in the peri-urban tertiary markets and the closer you go to the farm gates where the production really happens, there is a white space in terms of formal services. I had the opportunity to understand the power of farmer collectives in transforming value chains and our work at Arya reflects this learning and our business model sustains this ecosystem-focused approach,” he recalls.
Alongside Anand Chandra and Chattanathan Devarajan, Prasanna’s primary motivation behind the creation of Arya was to create value and formal connections for the smallest stakeholder in the value chain. “As you go closer to the farm gate, you find that the smallholder farmers are completely insulated from the changes and formalisation happening in the ecosystem. The realisation dawned upon us that organisations like ours could make a real difference if we could develop a model which was embedded in their reality,” he recalls.
Having said that, building this model did come with its challenges. “I think the biggest challenge was to translate our faith into our stakeholders, be it our shareholders, employees, investors, clients and customers that there indeed existed a highly scalable and profitable business closer to the farm gate. We had to gain their trust that we were building something viable, profitable and impactful, that too in a market that had not seen success earlier,” he adds.
Maximising Value Creation for Farmers
Arya.ag, integrates warehouse discovery, financing and market linkages to create an integrated digital platform that is accessible across the value chain from small-hold farmers to large corporations. Leveraging its technology stack, Arya.ag has been able to optimize its processes to provide users with a “seamless experience from storage to commerce”, claims Prasanna.
“Be it finding and booking a warehouse for their agri commodity, viewing their commodity realtime using Arya’s AI-enabled ‘Remote Warehouse Vision’, buying and selling a commodity or a range of finance options through Arya’s credit wallet such as ‘buy now, pay later’; a safe escrow mechanism and ‘Arya Pay Safe’ guarantees – are all available at a click of a button. Our ‘Marketplace Search’ engine connects sellers to buyers across the country with complete assurance on quantity, quality and payments and with our embedded logistics service, users can now seamlessly reach buyers in no time,” he explains.
Today, according to Prasanna, Arya.ag impacts over 6.5 lakh farmers across 500 FPOs and ensures growth of 15-25% in their value realisation.
“More than 8000 agricultural enterprises use our platform. Currently, commodities worth about Rs 15,000 crore flow through Arya.ag and we facilitate over USD 700 million of finance annually to maximise value for both sellers and buyers. Close to 40% of our clients are first-time borrowers accessing finance from a formal channel, of which close to 10% are women giving them larger access to working capital. Through our platform’s Price Intelligence mechanism and visibility to stocks–loaned and otherwise–we help farmers and FPOs make prompt and informed decisions on commodity sales. These sale proceeds then go to close the loan without impacting a farmer’s cash flows,” he claims. These are indeed staggering numbers.
According to Prasanna, there are two points that differentiate Arya.ag from other players in India’s thriving agtech sector. One is that they are not a principal in the trade but a platform. “In other words, we are not competing with the buyer or the seller and this allays any concerns around trust and reliability. We bring in complete assurance and transparency in your trade against a nominal fee and ensure that both the buyers and sellers get the best value,” he claims.
The second differentiator, he notes, is that their services are designed to solve problems keeping with the reality of the user, the resources available to them and their challenges. “One of the reasons why we have scaled extensively while being profitable is through layering services. At Arya.ag we believe in the old adage that the whole is much greater than the sum of parts. The platform generates revenues by layering multiple services to the same customer as her goods are aggregated, stored, financed, sold and transported,” he says.
He goes on to add, “We have been able to integrate services to create efficiency for each of these small parts while creating value and utility for our customers in a holistic integrated manner. For any service we offer, we do it at a much larger scale while being the cheapest for our customer. And though the rates we offer our customers are still the lowest, if you look at the overall profit and loss, we are probably earning more than any other player in the ecosystem of the competitors,” explains Prasanna.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)
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