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In Conversation with ThinkAg Member Arindom Dutta, Executive Director, Rabobank

How one of the leading food and agri sector banks is betting on innovation for India's agri community

Arindom Datta, is currently the Executive Director, Asia Sustainable Business Solutions and currently oversees the sustainability banking initiatives on knowledge, risk management and business development. He is also responsible for innovative projects in blended finance, technology/innovation and access to finance in the agriculture sector for Rabo Foundation. Arindom is further passionate about following the Ag-tech developments and its significance for smallholder farmers. He is a member of the National Advisory Committee of the PRODUCE Fund set up by NABARD. Arindom recently joined the Board of NABKISAN Finance Limited as Independent Director and is also on the Advisory Board of FPO development project of Sammunati in partnership with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Arindom was honoured with the ‘India Sustainable Leadership’ award at the India Sustainability Leadership Summit in 2017.

1. How does Rabobank (India) approach new innovations in terms of the Bank's culture? This can include a focus on the Agri lending side of the business?

Rabobank primarily serves Food & Agribusiness (F&A) clients in India and leverages on the global relationships and knowledge of the sector. Innovations are key to the development of the agriculture sector and Rabobank is keenly following the nascent but promising development of the sector in India. As part of our mission – ‘Growing a better world together.’ Rabobank along with its clients work towards addressing the issue of food waste, supply chain integrity and to promote sustainable agriculture. Simultaneously, Rabo Foundation works with a large base of farmer producer organizations and is introducing new technology that is available to make farm practice/management more efficient in India. Rabobank also engages with stakeholders to provide working capital solutions to leading Ag-tech companies and also structures solutions for smallholder farmers to access finance through Ag-tech platforms. Recently, Rabo Frontier Ventures made its first investment in a leading Ag-tech company, which provides the largest platform for farmers in India. In November 2018, Rabobank together with 127 startups and its clients worked together in the inaugural Food Loss Challenge Asia and succeeded in raising awareness and solutions to manage the pressing issue of Food Loss.

2. What is your view on the adoption of new technologies in the Indian Food and Agri landscape? In your view can this be accelerated and how?

Due to the need of the hour, India has the only choice of embracing technology to address the fragmentation issue and the loss of value in the supply chain in the agriculture sector. Being predominantly a smallholder farmer sector, technology is key for smallholder farmers to reach out to markets, access finance and to build up knowledge on good agriculture practices. There would be 3 key drivers to accelerate the adoption of new technologies. First large F&A companies and traders have to collaborate with Ag-tech companies. Secondly, there is a big movement in India to set up Farmer Producer Organizations (FPO) aggregating farmers. These FPOs need to adopt the technology. Lastly, the Ag-tech ecosystem (investors, incubators, accelerators, mentors, networks etc.) needs to grow. The good part is that we are seeing good traction on all the 3 dimensions and Rabobank is playing a strategic role in making these collaborations happen.

3. You have been interacting with young entrepreneurs wanting to add value to the existing systems and processes. What do you look for when you partner with them?

We look at first the robustness of the technology being offered and the problem that is being addressed. We draw from our deep understanding of global and local agriculture issues to critically look at these initiatives. Secondly, we also look at the management of Ag-tech companies - their capability, commitment, viewpoint and ability to raise capital in the early stages. Furthermore, as a leading F&A bank in the world, we also look at innovations that can increase the flow of funds to the agriculture sector especially in the upstream part of the value chain/smallholder farmers.

4. What are Rabobank's process and approach when it comes to engaging with emerging Ag-tech innovators? How can an innovator approach you with their solution?

Since we offer multiple services in India, our approach is very much based on the need of the sector and the innovators. We also have the capability to customize solutions for issues and challenges that Ag-tech companies face in the Indian market. Currently, we are using our extensive network to identify such companies with whom we are engaging. We do look at matured innovators who have received their Series A funding from Institutional investors and are addressing key issues in the sector.

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