This is the recording of the webinar that is part of July’s Portfolio Showcase, presented by Neteesh Thakur, the founder and CEO of UPAZ.
The session aimed to provide participants with a better understanding of Upaz’s current business and its potential for growth.
Thank you, everyone. As we mentioned earlier, our brand name is UPAZ, which stands for ‘production’ in Hindi and is the registered name of our company, Grey Matter Technologies Private Limited.
We operate on a community commerce and financing model that provides agricultural inputs on credit to smallholder farmers right at the village level.
Let me explain in detail what we mean by community commerce and financing, with an example. Take Lalmuni Devi, one of our subscriber farmers in Motihari. She farms on one acre of land and, during the sowing season, requires working capital ranging from ₹10,000 to ₹20,000 to purchase agricultural inputs like seeds, fertilizers, and nutrients such as zinc and calcium. However, studies show that less than 30% of farmers have access to institutional sources of finance, leaving the remaining 70% dependent on non-institutional financing from local retailers or money lenders, which comes at a steep interest rate of 4% to 5% per month.
The challenge arises when Lalmuni Devi seeks working capital support from local retailers who often push her to buy products that yield higher margins for them rather than the best yield for the farmer. Unfortunately, she is not alone in facing this issue. Out of 145 million farmers, 85% (around 125 million farmers) are smallholders facing similar challenges in accessing quality agricultural inputs and working capital financing.
To address this problem, we have developed a model that combines agriculture commerce with microfinance operations. We create service packages based on our agriculture expert’s recommendations, covering different land sizes and commodities like maize, wheat, and paddy. Farmers from a village council, known as the panchayat, form groups of 10 to 20 members, which amounts to approximately 200 to 300 farmers in each panchayat. These farmers subscribe to the appropriate service package based on their land size and crop choices.
We collect the consolidated information for each panchayat, including the required quantity of seeds and fertilizers, as well as their agricultural information and KYC details, through our field officers and our UPAZ application. This data is then shared with our partner banks and NBFCs, as well as agricultural input suppliers and commodity buyers. The financial institutions provide loans based on the farmer’s needs, which are used to directly pay the suppliers. This streamlined approach optimizes logistics and reduces transaction costs significantly, benefiting around 100 farmers in a small geographic area.
Our field officers conduct group meetings every five months after the delivery to collect repayments, which are then passed on to the NBFCs.
Through this model, we provide Agri input financing and advisory services for the entire agricultural cycle, from sowing to harvesting.
Furthermore, by collecting data on each farmer, we can anticipate their harvest yield and collaborate with companies like ITC to plan and fulfill market demand. We provide market information to potential buyers and help farmers get the best prices for their produce.
Since our inception, we have made a significant impact on more than 25,000 lives, and our services are particularly beneficial for women farmers in states like Bihar, UP, MP, and Orissa. In these regions, male family members often migrate to cities for secondary income, leaving women farmers to manage the agricultural activities. Our field officers offer critical support and guidance to these women, making it easier for them to access agricultural inputs and financing.
As we grow, we are increasingly digitizing our operations. Our UPAZ application is replacing pen-and-paper enrollment and data collection. We are also developing features like digital repayment options using phone-based payment systems like PhonePe and Google Pay, which are gaining popularity in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. This transition to digital repayment will enhance efficiency and convenience for our farmers.
Our vision extends beyond just serving Bihar and UP. We started with 313 farmers in November 2021, and within a year, we expanded to 2,500 farmers. Going forward, we plan to scale up to 7,500 farmers within the next five months and reach 31,000 farmers in the following financial year. Eventually, we aim to serve up to 90,000 farmers. With this expansion, we will invest in technology and operations to support our growth.
From a team of four members, we have grown to a team of 45 individuals with expertise in agriculture, financing, and technology. Our founders have rich backgrounds in sectors like agriculture finance, software engineering, and rural development, bringing a collective experience of over 40 years to the table.
Currently, we operate in Bihar and UP, covering three districts in Bihar and two in UP. Over the next year, we plan to expand our operations to more panchayats in these two states and subsequently explore opportunities in other regions.
Our revenue model revolves around a service fee that we charge to farmers, which includes interest paid to the finance company. We also earn margins from bulk sales of agricultural inputs to distributors. Going forward, we aim to facilitate the selling of farmers’ produce, further diversifying our revenue streams.
Through our community-driven commerce and financing model, we are making a tangible difference in the lives of smallholder farmers. By providing access to quality agricultural inputs and working capital financing, we empower farmers to improve their yields and financial stability. Our direct engagement with farmers allows us to build trust and understanding, making us uniquely positioned to cater to their specific needs.
In conclusion, UPAZ is making significant strides in transforming agriculture in India by fostering sustainable practices and uplifting farming communities. Our commitment to rural empowerment, innovation, and financial inclusion drives us to create lasting positive impacts in the lives of farmers across the nation.