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This duo quit cushy jobs in US to help Indian farmers access formal credit

Topics Farm crop loans

Jai Kisan co-founders Arjun Ahluwalia (Left) and Adriel Maniego
In late 2017, Arjun Ahluwalia decided to quit his high-paying private equity job in New York. The then 27-year-old Texas A&M University graduate wanted to make the best use of the bachelor's degree in finance and exposure to agriculture he had got during college to make an impact back home in India.

He convinced his friend and college batchmate Adriel Maniego, a US citizen of Filipino origin, to quit his job as well and join him in this adventure of starting a fintech firm. The idea was to create a platform for providing better access to credit and other financial services to farmers in India who are engulfed in the cobwebs of informal money lenders, micro-financiers and loan sharks. 

“Adriel and I started Jai Kisan to facilitate rightly-priced credit to rural borrowers. It didn’t make sense to us that a poor woman borrower in the middle of nowhere is expected to generate over 24 per cent internal rate of return (IRR) on a small Rs 50,000-type loan, while in our previous jobs (at private equity firms) we were expected to generate a meagre 12 per cent returns for our partners armed with billions of dollars in capital,” said Ahluwalia, co-founder and chief executive officer at Jai Kisan.

The duo's passion to drive innovation and technology in order to bring down the cost of capital and increase access to financial services for rural India was the story behind the origin of Jai Kisan. 

The Mumbai-based rural fintech firm, which launched formal operations in April 2019, ties up with equipment or input dealers (who sell to farmers) or agri-commodity dealers, retailers, mandis, farmers producer organisations and even e-commerce firms (who buy from farmers) to provide credit for the transactions done by farmers. This is done by placing a laptop or a tablet at the business premises or directly integrating into some of the organisations's digital platforms for loan disbursement from banks and non-banking financial companies (NBFCs). Jai Kisan currently focuses on the agriculture, dairy and poultry value chains that 70 per cent of rural Indians transact with on a weekly or a monthly basis for their business needs.

In an attempt to digitise rural consumer records, Jai Kisan is also investing heavily in artificial intelligence to derive multi-level insights into rural consumers and businesses. This is done in order to predict the spending patterns or capture early signs of stress. The firm is building a next-generation platform primed to reimagine the way financial institutions look at the rural markets, shifting the view from a mandate to a lucrative market. 

Till June, Jai Kisan has disbursed over Rs 50 crore in working capital loans to more than 5,500 farmers across 10 states - recording over 10x growth year-to-date. It is partnered with 3 banks and 5 NBFCs, including Avanti Finance that is promoted by veterans Ratan Tata and Nandan Nilekani.

Earlier this month, the startup raised Rs 30 crore in Pre Series A funding backed by Arkam Ventures (formerly Unitary Helion), with participation from Nabventures \Fund I. This was Nabventures' (Nabard's investment arm) maiden investment since its launch in May last year. The company plans to utilise the investment for strategic recruitment to achieve scale and further enhance its tech platform and product development.

The pandemic has also given the much-needed fillip to the agri-tech space as more farmers are harnessing the benefits of digitisation and technology at an unprecedented rate. "As legacy and rigid models of transacting faltered in the lockdown era, farmers are more forthcoming to new-aged models as they are now seeing the benefits of technologically-driven supply chains. Well-positioned farmers and tech-enabled businesses have seen an uptick in business," said Ahluwalia recently got featured in Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list.

Going forward, the agritech firm aims to venture into more states across the country, mainly the north-east, while aiming to clock total disbursements of over Rs 150 crore by the end of the financial year-ending 2021.

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