Behind the Proposal: Agratam

ideas4action@wharton.upenn.edu Blog, Uncategorized

Agratam is the third piece of our “Behind the Proposal” series. It tells the story of team Agratam, from India, third place winner of the 2017 Ideas for Action Competition.

Growing up in Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, Akshay was acutely aware of the poverty, social marginalization and the lack of opportunities much of the population faced. Akshay was fortunate enough to be educated at premier institutions like St. Stephens College, University of Oxford and Columbia University. However, over the many years he spent living, studying and working in London and New York, his heart decidedly remained attached to his home state. It was in 2013 that he finally decided to quit his investment banking job in London and move back to India. His move to India was accompanied by a passion to contribute his knowledge and expertise to the betterment of local communities in Bihar.

Akshay spent several months in Bihar, immersed in the grassroot realities of the lives he was aiming to improve. He attempted several small-scale interventions such as ensuring villages became open defecation free, forming and working with women self-help groups and organising vocational and entrepreneurial training for the youth amongst many others. Despite this, he felt there remained a much broader scope for socio-economic empowerment and generating and improving access to livelihoods and began thinking innovatively about methods to drive sustainable impact.

He knew that Bihar is home to more than 9,000 square kilometers of low-lying, waterlogged wasteland. Of the state population of c.130 million, 80 percent live below the poverty line of US$1 a day. Of those, 15 million people belong to the fisher community, all of whom live below the poverty line and are classified by the government as an extremely backward caste. Fish is the staple diet in the region, with annual consumption of fish at US$1 billion in the state. However, Bihar suffers from a gap between demand and supply of more than 232 million kilograms of fish per year (US$390 million). To fulfill that unmet demand, Bihar imports fish from neighboring states through unorganized channels. This stark demand-supply gap along with the availability of naturally occurring resource and potential for wide-scale impact, led Akshay to set up Agratam India.

Akshay Verma

Agratam currently works in the state of Bihar to convert low-lying and unproductive waterlogged wastelands into profitable fish farming units. The project primarily aims to provide sustainable employment opportunities to the members of the extremely poor rural communities, who do not have access to a consistent and stable source of income. By aggregating the unproductive parcels of land held by smallholder farmers, Agratam also provides these farmers with assured rental income on land from which they otherwise extract negligible value or economic returns. Agratam’s aim is to use existing natural resources in an economically productive and sustainable manner to create income-generating opportunities for the poorest sections of the community. Agratam’s holistic model focuses on converting unproductive land mass into profit-generating assets, thereby creating employment, stabilizing incomes, developing skills, preventing distressed migration and addressing food security and malnutrition, all of which greatly contribute to the sustainable development of underserved and marginalised rural communities.

With its use of innovative methods backed by strong financial structuring and a fundamentally high-return model, Agratam hopes to attract the right kind of investment and support to scale and drive significant impact given the sheer potential of this opportunity.

Some of Agratam’s achievements include:

  • First ever winner from India of the World Bank-IFC-Zicklin Center at Wharton competition – Ideas for Action – that identifies financeable, sustainable and innovative project that align with Sustainable Development Goals
  • Akshay was personally invited and felicitated by President Obama at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2015 – Akshay was the only Indian entrepreneur to be recognized at this global stage
  • Agratam India’s work is a case study at University of Oxford
  • Agratam India’s fish farms have grown 300% in the last 3 years. With a strong demonstration effect, Agratam now has more than 500 acres of land pledged to it in principal. It is now looking for knowledge and capital support to build out the entire fisheries value chain in Bihar (feed mills, hatcheries, distribution network, preservation and storage facilities, etc.)

 

www.agratamindia.com | Contact: akshay.verma@agratamindia.com