Arya.ag is India’s largest agri based marketplace where they offer integrated services to their target market comprising small farmers, FPOs, merchants and corporate buyers. The Founders include Chattanathan Devarajan, Prasanna Rao and Anand Chandra with decades of experience between them pertaining to rural management as well as farm-based commodities. Over a quick period of time, Arya.ag has built a legacy encompassing complete visibility of agri-produce worth over USD 2 Bn, supply assurance on its platform through a network of 10000 storage points with a footprint of 100 Mn sq ft across India, facilitating finance of over USD 700 Mn annually, existing reach spanning over 650000 farmers through partnerships with 500 FPOs and eventually serving as a trusted partner to 8000 agri MSMEs. The company has recently closed a series C round valued at USD 60 million. Its investors include Quona Capital, Omnivore Partners, Lightrock and Asia Impact SA.
Startup Urban interacted with Prasanna Rao, Managing Director, Arya.ag to understand the company’s journey and way ahead expansion plans. Excerpts from the interaction:
Exclusive Interview with Mr.Prasanna Rao
What made you strike this business idea? What inspired you to start this company?
Anand and I were working together at ICICI for many years before we came together to set up Arya.ag. As bankers, we have worked across Agri markets and we knew that banks primarily serviced tertiary agricultural markets.
We have closely seen the gap that exists in the near farm gate primary and secondary markets. For instance, there was an instance where we were trying to help an FPO get a loan of Rs 10 Lacs for which the bank they reached out to took three months just to respond – three months on a fully secured loan! On the other hand, a trader requesting a loan could get a two crore loan sanctioned within 48 hours. Clearly, there was a huge need that existed and this market had a very large potential too with no formal player to service their needs. Today at Arya.ag, farmers and other users can get instant access to loans from their dashboard leveraging the best of digital lending capabilities. This is one proof point that shows Arya.ag is enabling shifting the power back into the hands of the producer.
When did you start your business?
Anand & I acquired Arya from the JM Baxi group in 2013. I was previously Head of Agri Commodity Finance at ICICI Bank, while Anand was ICICI Bank’s National Product Head for Agri Commodity Finance. More recently, we were joined by Chattanathan Sir, the former Group Product Head of the Rural and Inclusive Banking Group at ICICI Bank.
Working together we have successfully helped farmers realize better value for their products and today Arya.ag is one of the largest, most profitable-since inception and fastest-growing agritech platform in India.
What does success mean to your company?
The potential impact and change agritech could create in the country and to its people are immense. As sector agriculture employs the most population, however, contributes to a relatively smaller portion of GDP. This reflects the kind of efficiency technology can enable to the sector. Further, the glaring gap exists in the near farm markets and centres. The only way to bridge this gap is to overlay technology to the Indian agriculture ecosystem, thus bringing about large scale irreversible positive change.
We at Arya.ag hold the belief that we will be truly successful when we enable freedom of choice on value chain decisions to 10 million farmers within five years.
How are you performing currently?
Arya.ag has been able to quickly build a legacy spanning presence in 21 states across 425 districts with our digital platform providing visibility to over USD 2.0 billion of stored grains across 10,000 commodity storage points. Furthermore, our platform seamlessly embeds financing and we facilitate over USD 700 Mn of finance annually to maximize value for both sellers and buyers. We have the largest NBFC book (Warehouse Receipt) and highest ROE on account of our asset-light tech-based model with our lending arm being NPA-free. We are also one of the rare startups that has been profitable since its inception.
What is the biggest risk to your company?
With our tech-led focus, we have been able to tide over major risks involved in this business. Our model has stood the test of time. We have successfully steered through major events including demonetisation, GST implementation, farm loan waivers and the pandemic. It is our firm belief that we possess business fundamentals strong enough for us to dominate this market.
What are your plans for the funding?
We have previously been funded by prestigious PE funds including Lightrock India, Omnivore and Quona Capital. We are in the advanced stage to close our Series C funding.
What is the biggest challenge you faced during your start-up setup?
Our experience as we moved ahead in our journey shows that the biggest challenge was to earn the belief of all stakeholders – our bankers, partners, customers, investors and employees. The challenge was to make them realise that there indeed existed a highly scalable and profitable business closer to the farmgate, a market that had not seen success earlier.
What does growth mean to you and your business?
Growth to us is the ability to influence and catalyse the lives of the smallest stakeholders in agriculture, thus making it the most lucrative business for them. It is our endeavour to reach a level where Arya.ag channelises more than 65% of all agribusiness in the country.
How does your product stand different from others in the market?
The greatest differentiator for Arya.ag has been its ability to embed innovation and technology in the here and now of Indian agriculture to eventually come up with an integrated service offering spanning storage, lending and commerce.
Be it concentrating on the near farm primary and secondary markets or innovating on the first of its kind price risk mitigation model for FPOs or deployment of hermetic storage technology, Arya.ag’s emphasis has always been on solving the most basic problems using technology. Our integrated model services the smallest of the stakeholders in the most cost-efficient manner, while at the same time being sustainable for us. That makes us the only large scale agritech start-up that is profitable.
What does it feel like to be the founder of your start-up? How does it feel to get up every morning and getting on to work?
Being a founder places a sense of great responsibility on your shoulders. You are holding the vision of over 1600 team members to influence the lives of countless small farmers. The immense possibilities this role offers keep me extremely excited and motivated.
Where do you see your business standing in the next 5 years?
Our intent is to strengthen access to finance and markets through an integrated digital offering for players in the remotest markets across the country. We are digitising the complete post-harvest value chain, enabling each farmer to have the freedom to decide when, where and who to sell her produce.
In five years’ time, Arya.ag hopes to impact the lives of 10 million smallholder farmers in India enabling them to access markets most transparently. The solutions being developed by Arya.ag have global relevance and we believe our work will expand to geographies beyond India.
Who supports you to stand this business and how? Please share this thing in brief.
Our work is a collective effort of the team, our customers, partners and investors. The satisfaction of our customers reflected through their ratification of our services is one of the strongest pillars of our business. My team working through all adversities has been our largest source of strength. Our investors and partners have believed in our vision and have stood by us through this journey.
The business model of the company.
Arya.ag’s unique farmer-centred approach, providing a full-service digital platform with embedded finance and differentiated efficiencies for small farm holders has made it India’s leading post-harvest startup. Our work is in the primary and secondary market centres where we do not see many players operating irrespective of what their area of expertise.
Digitization of stored produce is at the crux of Arya.ag’s approach. Through our digitally integrated model, Arya.ag converts each bag of the farmer’s commodity into an electronic balance that in turn could be stored, offered as security for a loan, or be sold digitally at a click of a button.
To be able to address key concerns, we bring in technology and risk mitigation measures that have not been seen in this ecosystem. Arya.ag connects sellers and buyers of agriproduce with complete assurance on quantity, quality and payments. We are accessible to the small hold farmers as much as to large corporates connecting the supply and demand side with complete transparency and assurance on quality, quantity and payments.
How many employees are working in your organisation?
Our team is currently 1600 strong and growing.
How do Arya.ag support farmers?
Though our clients include farmers, farmer producer organisations (FPOs), financial institutions, SME agri processors, commodity traders and corporate agribusinesses, our focus has always been empowering the farmer community by increasing their options.
Without financing, farmers cannot generate liquidity. Our warehouse receipt financing allows farmers to meet immediate cash requirements and sell the produce when prices are beyond harvest-season lows, often realizing 20–30% higher returns. These sale proceeds go towards loan repayment without impacting the cash-flows of the farmer. Close to 35-40 per cent of our lending arm, Aryadhan’s 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.
We reach about 600,000 farmers directly or through our association with Farmer producer Organisations. We work with over 400 FPOs currently to provide them with combined services of aggregation, storage, finance and market linkages. FPOs aggregation and sale of member produce generates an additional gain of about 5-7% for its members. However, the possibility of gain is significantly enhanced if the aggregated produce is stored and sold a few months later. In doing so and providing credit access, we ensure the growth of 15-25% in the value realisation of the farmers/FPOs.