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Prasanna Rao co-founded Arya.ag, India’s largest integrated grain commerce platform, in 2013 along with Chattanathan Devarajan and Anand Chandra. The platform leverages technology to efficiently connect the supply side of the Agro ecosystem with the demand side through a comprehensive portfolio of agri-services like warehouse management, access to finance, quality testing and storage protection services.
“India provides us with ample growth opportunities. As a fast-growing organisation, Arya provides immense opportunities for personal growth. Seeing talent attracted to an organisation catalysing meaningful large-scale change has been interesting. The possibility to drive change in a sector as critical yet fragmented as agriculture and make a difference in the lives of millions of farmers in a viable and highly scalable manner excites young talent,” said Prasanna Rao, CEO of Arya.ag.
Rao holds a PGDM in Rural Management. Before founding Arya, Rao served as the Head of Commodity-based Financing at ICICI bank for seven years. He also serves as the Strategic Advisor at SecureEyes, a Bengaluru-based cyber security specialised consulting services firm.
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In an interaction with Analytics India Magazine, Rao spoke about Arya. ag’s future plans, Prakshep acquisition, and more.
AIM: How did you venture into agritech?
Prasanna Rao: Having worked in Amul, Coca-Cola, and ICICI, I had the opportunity to look at the market and understand how to think from the producer and the consumer’s perspectives. 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 happens, there is a white space in terms of formal services.
This reflects the potential impact and change agritech could create in the country and its people. Dr Verghese Kurien said, “India’s place in the sun would come from the partnership between the wisdom of its rural people and skill of its professionals .” The entire process at Arya is driven by the idea of creating a partnership between the wisdom available to our farmers and the professionalism and technology we, as professionals, bring to the table. We are not here to redeem farmers of their problems, but we have to leverage their wisdom to create sustainable and highly scalable models.
It has been an incredibly enriching experience. Being a founder places a sense of great responsibility on your shoulders. You are holding the vision of close to 2,000 team members to influence the lives of countless small farmers. We have been able to translate our faith into our stakeholders, be it our shareholders, employees, investors, clients, and customers, that a highly scalable and profitable business exists closer to the farm gate.
The immense possibilities this role offers keep me highly excited and motivated.
AIM: What made you start Arya.ag?
Prasanna Rao: Our primary motivation 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 entirely insulated from the changes and formalisation happening in the ecosystem. So we realised that we could make a real difference by developing a model embedded in their reality.
Anand and 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. Recently, Chattanathan Sir, the former Group Product Head of the Rural and Inclusive Banking Group at ICICI Bank, joined us.
Working together, we have successfully helped farmers realise better value for their produce, and today Arya.ag is one of the fastest-growing agri-commerce platforms in India.
AIM: Why did you acquire data science firm Prakshep?
Prasanna Rao: With this acquisition, Arya reinforces its position as India’s largest integrated grain commerce platform. The distinct digital offerings of Prakshep will add to Arya.ag’s deep tech capability and provide traceability, transparency, and quality assurance for seamless commodity commerce. In addition, Arya.ag will now hold the most extensive database in agriculture, adding farm details including boundaries, crop activities, health, and yield valuation to its storage and grain value-chain database repository.
We will strengthen our relationship with our base of almost a million farmers and 500 FPOs by providing farm assessment and crop health monitoring via AI integration, remote sensing, and satellite imaging.
Climate-smart agriculture is pertinent to the challenges of food security and climate change. The partnership between Arya. ag and Prakshep can offer intelligent and scalable solutions to reimagine the agricultural ecosystem.
AIM: A few months back, Arya.ag raised USD 60 million. How do you plan to use the fresh capital?
Prasanna Rao: We are working towards expanding our commerce/market linkage volumes from the existing ARR of USD 200 million to USD 1 billion in the next 12 months. As reflected in the acquisition of Prakshep, we are deepening our services to farmers through significant technology enhancements, including the deployment of blockchain, greater AI integration, and remote sensing. We are already expanding our physical reach from 55 percent of the Indian districts to 75 percent in the coming months. Our partnership with Asia Impact provides us with a base of over 3 million rural and Agri households across the country to offer our services. And we expect to add 300 such members to our team, including 50 members to our tech team.
AIM: What comprises Arya.ag’s tech stack?
Prasanna Rao: Arya offers integrated tech services: Our surveillance runs on AI/ML-based platforms, while marketplace, financial solutions and storage run LEMP. In addition, our pre-harvest solution, Vikshep, runs on Python. As Arya.ag is growing in terms of its grain footprint across 5,000+ locations serving many agri-customers, we are looking towards a more scalable, easy to access and secure and less resource-intensive platform. Therefore, we are moving towards event sourcing (microservices) built on Golang, MySQL, and Kafka and react JS.
AIM: What’s the role of women in agritech? How does Arya.ag enable this change?
Prasanna Rao: As key participants in agriculture, women will lead the shift to technology on the ground.
At Arya.ag we ensure that the tech for all our products and services is simple to engage with and easy to adopt. We continue to work with Women-led FPOs to educate them on agri-business models and have helped create close to 1500 Community Value-Chain Resource Persons (CVRPS)and business managers. The model has been highly successful. Not only does it help the women lead, they also act as a layer to help other women adopt technology and new business models. These CVRPs have trained over 60000 farmers who now handle all procurement and inventory management activities such as grading, sorting, weighing, storing, loading, unloading, invoicing, and coordinating logistics to send the produce to processing mills.
In our experience, women are leading agri supply chain models across the country. Seeing them breaking stereotypes while enhancing their incomes and gaining financial independence is wholesome. Women are far more open to adopting technology, and we have seen a significant shift in their role from ancillary activities to managerial ones.