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Mandala Capital is a vision driven investment firm with an aim to transform the lives of hundreds of millions of farmers, making agriculture more sustainable, climate friendly and resilient while increasing people’s access to affordable, healthy and nutritious food.


We are a financial-first impact investor with a focus on investments in the food and agriculture value chain across South and South East Asia.

The region and sector offer compelling investment opportunities with a young and rapidly urbanizing population of 2 billion of which half remain linked to agriculture, a rising GDP per capita and stable economies. The region stands as an agriculture powerhouse and a global leader in the production of most major fruits and crops.

Largely private, family-owned companies coupled with small holder farmer producers have led to the region falling behind global peers on efficiency, productivity and technology adoption, creating areas for value addition and economies of scale.

We partner with visionary teams and executives and provide extensive financial and operational support to create a network of industry-leading champions that can transform our outdated food systems and solve challenges in climate, health and nutrition, resource efficiency and rural employment.

Let Mandala’s Managing Partner Uday Garg explain our mission and investment approach to you personally.

“The next ten years will be transformative for the sector as it faces challenges related to supply chain, climate change and resource efficiency coupled with rising demand.”

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Exciting News:
One of our Portfolio Company, Godavari Biorefineries, has filed for an IPO

We are happy to announce that Godavari Biorefineries has officially filed for an IPO! This milestone marks a significant achievement and reflects the hard work of the entire team.

Godavari Biorefineries is one of the prominent manufacturers of ethanol-based chemicals in India and as of March 31, 2024, it has the largest integrated bio-refinery in India in terms of installed capacity. It is one of India’s largest producers of ethanol in terms of volume as of March 31, 2024.

Its diversified product portfolio comprises of bio-based chemicals, sugar, different grades of ethanol and power. These products find application in a range of industries such as food, beverages, pharmaceuticals, flavours & fragrances, power, fuel, personal care and cosmetics

Since our investment in 2015, Mandala Capital has worked closely with the team providing insights to attain several key milestones, while focusing on sugarcane feedstock valorisation, sustainable practices and waste & water management.

Godavari has expanded their scale of operations and now has a global footprint with sales to customers from over 20 countries during the last three Fiscals.

Buzzy Business: This Singapore-Based Startup Raised $28 Million To Grind Flies Into Farm Food

Armed with $28 million in funding, Nutrition Technologies specializes in animal feed and fertilizers that incorporate a simple, seemingly gross ingredient: black soldier flies.

Long regarded as pests, flies are often associated with disease, decay and death. To Nutrition Technologies – an honoree of this year’s Forbes Asia 100 to Watch list – the negative perception surrounding flies and other insects is precisely why they are an untapped opportunity for agricultural technology, also known as agritech.

“People approach insects with a lot of baggage, a lot of fear and disgust,” says Martin Zorrilla, CTO at Nutrition Technologies, in an interview at the startup’s headquarters in Singapore. “We take advantage of the fact that society has looked away, and instead look very closely at these organisms and recognize how remarkable they are at what they do.”

Founded in 2015, Nutrition Technologies processes black soldier fly larvae into supplements for animal feed and fertilizers. Its products include Hi.Protein, a protein powder for usage with pet food, aquatic feed, or feed for chickens and pigs, and Vitalis, a liquid fertilizer the startup claims can prevent fungal disease and improve plant health.

Chiefly operating out of a two-hectare factory across the border in Malaysia, the company aims to double down on its expansion in the country and eventually expand into new markets across Southeast Asiaincluding Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Investors have swarmed to Nutrition Technologies. To date, it’s raised a total of$28 million, with its most recent $20 million funding round in 2022 led by the venture capital arm of Thailand’s state-owned oil and gas giant PTT. In June, U.S. agricultural giant Bunge invested an undisclosed amount in the startup, as part of a joint venture to expand in Southeast Asia. Two months earlier, in April, the startup inked a partnership with Japanese trading house Sumitomo Corp., which committed to import and sell 30,000 tons of Nutrition Technologies’ fish feed by 2030.

Across previous rounds, Nutrition Technologies’ investors have included Hera Capital, Openspace Ventures and SEEDS Capital, an investment arm of Enterprise Singapore.

The company declined to disclose its current valuation and most recent revenue. NTG Holdingsthe holding company of Nutrition Technologies, reported revenues of $380,855 for the year ended October 31, 2022, up from $73,402 the year before, while losses widened from $4 million to $7.9 million over the same period, according to its latest annual financial statement on Singapore’s Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) website. Thomas Berry, cofounder and co-CEO of Nutrition Technologies, says the figures “do not reflect sales or productivity” after the company’s factory completed construction in 2022.

“We found that Nutrition Technologies has the first mover advantage in Southeast Asia,” says Buranin Rattanasombat, chief new business and infrastructure officer at PTT, in a video interview. “They are not early-stage, they are in their early commercial stage…if they can improve in terms of efficiency and in terms of product quality, they can be cost-effective to run their product in the Thai market or overseas market.”

An employee mixes black soldier fly larvae at Nutrition Technologies’ factory in Johor, Malaysia. COURTESY OF NUTRITION TECHNOLOGIES

In the buzzy insect-as-feed sector, Rattanasombat says Nutrition Technologies’ edge lies in its proprietary fermentation process and its low-cost facilities. PTT’s investment involves providing expertise and resources–for one, Mekha V, PTT’s AI robotics arm, collaborates with Nutrition Technologies on “operational projects,” such as automating production tasks.

Tapping into agritech is part of a forward-looking strategy for the 44-year-old petrochemicals company, which has a market capitalization of almost 1 trillion baht ($28 billion). “Now we have a new vision for our company…we try to diversify our vision from fossil fuels to future energy that can serve global climate change,” says Rattanasombat.

To feed cratefuls of black soldier flies, Nutrition Technologies bacterially ferments raw agricultural waste, such as palm oil fibers or coffee grounds. The fly larvae consume the fermented waste until they’re fully grown, a process that takes up to 10 days. Producers at the startup’s facilities then grind the larvae into powder or compress them into oil for animal feed. Separately, producers mix the larvae’s frass, or debris from its digestion, with a microbial inoculant extracted from the black soldier flies. The resulting product is a fertilizer containing living microorganisms, known as a biofertilizer. Producing one kilogram of Nutrition Technologies’ flagship Diptia biofertilizer requires a bioconversion process with 200,000 black soldier fly larvae, the company says, andat any single point in time, there are roughly 3 billion larvae in cultivation.

“People approach insects with a lot of baggage, a lot of fear and disgust…we take advantage of the fact that society has looked away.”Martin Zorrilla, CTO of Nutrition Technologies.

Nutrition Technologies specifically selected black soldier flies for their immune system, says Zorrilla, a former postgraduate fellow at Cornell University. Unlike mosquitos, the flies are not vectors for diseases otherwise known as zoonoses, illnesses that certain animals can pass to humans. The genes of black soldier flies can potentially produce over 50 antimicrobial peptides, molecules that can assist immunity, according to an open-access research paper published last January in the American Society for Microbiology’s journal, Microbiology Spectrum.

“People may not really know what their food eats, but a lot of feed ingredients have pretty high-risk profiles,” says Zorrilla. Examples include grains contaminated with strains of fungus, known as mycotoxins, and feed consisting of the animal’s own species. While regulations on these ingredients exist, they vary worldwide–for instance, the maximum amount of deoxynivalenol, a type of mycotoxin, in animal feed is 10,000 parts per billion (ppb) in the U.S., but only 5,000 ppb in the EU. “Compared to conventional food production systems…insects are actually a really remarkably kind of clean and efficient way to feed animals,” he adds.

Buoyed by population growth and improved purchasing power in emerging, increasingly urban economies, global meat production reached 364 million tons in 2022, with meat prices reaching an all-time high, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. Meeting sizzling demand for meat has far-reaching environmental costs, particularly for the staple crops of soy, corn and other grains that livestock must consume. Up to 80% of the world’s soy is used as a source of protein to feed land animals, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature, but farming soy is land and water-intensive, posing the risk of deforestation in nations that are major soy exporters, such as Brazil. More broadly, continued strain on staple crops is one of many factors making food systems more vulnerable, along with ecosystem degradation and an increasing global population–set to reach 9.7 billion by 2050–the United Nations Commission on Population and Development wrote in a 2021 report.

Insects like black soldier flies have emerged a potential protein sources for livestock, although further research may be required to prove their efficacy. Black soldier fly larvae are rich in fatty acids, proteins and minerals, although these larvae cannot “completely replace” soybean meal yet, according to a 2022 review by researchers in Thailand, published in the open-access journal Insects.

Cattle eating at feed troughs on a farm in Brazil. JONNE RORIZ/BLOOMBERG

Nutrition Technologies may face competition from other insect-as-feed startups headquartered in Singapore that aim to expand in Southeast Asia. Last May, Entobel, which focuses on aquafeed, raised a $30 million funding round; months earlier, last March, Insect Feed Technologies raised an S$1.25 million ($918,000) seed funding round to develop black soldier fly fish feed and pet food. Larger, EU-based companies in the sector have also announced plans to expand in Southeast Asia. These companies include Netherlands-based Protix, which raised an undisclosed investment from billionaire John Tyson’s Tyson Foods in October, and Paris-based Innovafeed, which raised $250 million last September in a round led by Singaporean impact investment firm ABC Impact.

Regulations for the use of insects in animal feed vary greatly worldwide, posing potential headaches for manufacturers. In the U.S., authorities prohibit producers of pet food, fish bait and animal feed from importing live black soldier flies to use in their products, but they can apply for a permit to import crickets, mealworms and other insects. At present, black soldier flies cannot be used to feed livestock intended for human consumption, but can be used for pets, in products such as dog food. Manufacturers of animal feed in the EU and U.K. are allowed to incorporate animal remains, including insects, into their products, even for livestock intended for human consumption–but these insects cannot be fed any waste containing animal remains, according to legislative reforms from 2021. Scientific regulations on breeding insects are not well-established, with some academics questioning the ethics of such breeding when there is no scientific consensus on whether insects can feel pain.

“The most challenging part of our expansion has definitely been understanding the different biological limitations, and finding out what the unknown unknowns are,” says Berry, referring to the challenges in optimizing variables like temperature, airflow, and the proximity of larvae in their growing trays. “Luckily, where we are today, with all kinds of industrial proof of concept, we believe that most of these are now being met.”

A former program manager at the UN, Berry met Nutrition Technologies’ fellow cofounder and co-CEO, Nick Piggott, when they worked on the UN’s food security programs in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Piggott was a program consultant for the United Nations Population Fund, but “whilst working in a big institution, we weren’t able to hit our personal goals,” says Berry. Their idea for an increasingly circular economy, in which agricultural waste could serve as the basis for fertilizer, served as the inspiration for Nutrition Technologies.

Samples of different Nutrition Technologies materials. SHANSHAN KAO FOR FORBES ASIA.

Next year, the agritech startup plans to unveil several new black soldier fly biofertilizers, building off the startup’s most recent product line, Diptia. The biofertilizer incorporates insect chitin, which the startup claims can stimulate the immune systems of plants. To increase its production capacity, Nutrition Technologies also aims to raise “a mixture of debt and equity” as capital to start building a second industrial plant in 2024, which Berry says will be three times larger than its current plant.

“Within five years, I would hope to have a network of different Nutrition Technologies factories around the region…supporting local economies and improving food security,” says Berry. “That’s what we’re passionate about, and that’s what we want to see done here in Southeast Asia first, before we can branch out to other regions around the world.”

AVCJ Profile: Mandala Capital’s Uday Garg

Uday Garg realised an unlikely career arc from tennis to private equity with the establishment of India’s Mandala Capital. This was guided by a passion for achieving impact in food and agriculture.

The most famous argument against active portfolio management compares the investment industry to the game of tennis. And it’s not flattering.

In his 1975 treatise on the subject, Greenwich Associates founder Charles Ellis described professional tennis as a winner’s game, where precision moves and skill decide the outcome. Amateur tennis is a loser’s game, where the smartest strategy is to simply avoid mistakes and let opponents defeat themselves through unforced errors.

The idea is that even as the overall economic pie increases in size, the investment industry is growing ever more crowded with skilled and informed practitioners. As a result, it has become less feasible to exploit a true edge, and the overripe gold rush has effectively turned portfolio management into amateur tennis. Don’t go for a smash; just keep the ball in court.

The theory is strictly academic and metaphorical – until it isn’t. AVCJ put the question to Uday Garg, founder of India’s Mandala Capital and one of few in the global private equity industry with experience playing world-class competitive tennis.

Garg was ranked number-one junior in India, played in the Junior Davis Cup, and competed against Grand Slam champions Andy Roddick and the Williams sisters. So, when he switched from tennis to investment, did he feel compelled to start playing a loser’s game?

“The people who are consistently winning at the top all come up with something new to elevate their game. Pete Sampras’ second serve was faster than his first. Everyone thought the second serve was conservative. Now everybody’s second serve on the [ATP] Tour is like a weapon,” Garg said.

“If you just do what everybody else is doing in investing, you’re never going to generate special returns for your investors. You can see that in most industries. The people who are doing well stepped out of their comfort zone and innovated in some way, and it looks normal now.”

Planting seeds

In fact, Garg’s career in private equity has deeper roots in family than sport. His grandfather, B.R. Barwale founded global seed company Mahyco and is a leading figure in the history of Indian agribusiness. In 1998, Barwale received the World Food Prize for “transforming the face of Indian agriculture,” through access to high-quality seeds.

Garg is the only person in his family without a science background, but he brought his interest in finance to the food and agriculture space in 2008 with Mandala, a returns-focused private equity firm with a strong impact agenda. His grandfather’s commitment to the welfare of farmers was the fundamental inspiration.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School – where he played Division I tennis – Garg tried his hand in a few domains. He did commodity trading and macro trading at US hedge fund Amaranth before managing special situations portfolios in Eastern Europe for Altima Partners, a UK-based Deutsche Bank affiliate.

By 2006, Garg was helping manage a USD 1bn global farmland fund that Altima had raised on the back of a high-minded but arguably unfocused Malthusian food crisis thesis. This is when the blueprint for Mandala began to take shape.

“There’s room for that in every portfolio, but personally, I didn’t feel that it was really doingjustice to the theme. I felt like the action was in Asia, not simply, ‘Food demand is increasing, and there’s farmland next to me in the US. Let me buy that,’” Garg said.

“Even back then, I felt strongly that countries wanted to be self-sufficient in food, pushing their own agriculture ecosystems and knowhow. It’s not that they couldn’t do it. They just needed the right capital, teams, and government support – the right target sector push.”

Mandala was founded on megatrend tailwinds around changing climate and consumption patterns. In the developed world, demand is growing for healthier foods with cleaner, more transparent supply chains. In the developing world, demand is growing across the board, especially in terms of a shift from carbohydrates to proteins.

Food safety and food security in the context of climate change and geopolitical tension are complex overlays that underpin much of the mandate. In addition to India, Southeast Asia is becoming a core geography.

The key opening in this space for an active private equity strategy is in the fragmented nature of food in developing markets. Unlike in more advanced economies, agriculture is a major contributor to GDP in South and Southeast Asia, but this activity is mostly represented by small businesses that are inaccessible via passive investment channels.

Getting traction

Garg had an edge in his family contacts but has consciously distanced Mandala from Mahyco to avoid perceived conflicts of interest. Still, the LP base has consistently comprised blue-chip US institutions the likes of Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association and College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF) and University of Texas Investment Management (UTIMCO).

The main fundraising hurdle has been a lack of comparable operators. Food and agriculture was an established niche in venture, but LPs had no benchmark for buyouts. The challenge was compounded by the need to balance elements of emerging markets, technology, consumer, and real assets strategies.

“I was only 30 when I started out, just talking to companies, using some of my own saved-up capital to invest in a few things, getting a friends-and-family pool going, a few million dollars. It was tough to manage that kind of cash and do something real, but we just figured out a way to keep the lights on and show some ability and track record,” Garg said.

“If you have a blank slate, you do not do food and agriculture with an India and Southeast Asia focus. You do a generalist Asia fund. I wouldn’t advise anyone to do this unless they really want to do it. There’s easier money to make doing software, financials, or healthcare.”

The first fund closed at USD 120m in 2016, with Fund II launching later the same year and closing on USD 130m. The portfolios are compact; there are less than 10 companies across both vintages. Midstream and upstream enterprise-facing suppliers are preferred. Control deals have proven the most successful. Climate shock is the wildcard.

“Our companies tell us they’re seeing events that they have not seen in 50 to 60 years, back-to-back droughts, extreme flooding, anomalies in El Nino,” Garg said.

“There’s been stuff we could never factor into our analysis because you look back and say, ‘Worst-case scenario, this happens.’ Then, something even worse happens. These three standard deviation events have started to happen. The flipside is it’s forcing a lot of innovation.”

Sugarcane processor Godavari Biorefineries offers a case in point. Mandala invested about USD 15m in the company in 2015 and spent the first two years shepherding it through a string of droughts said to be the worst in 30 years. The government had kept sugar prices low despite the domestic shortfall by allowing increased imports. The entire industry was operating at a loss.

Mandala stepped in on several fronts. Most importantly, it invested further capital to support the business and encouraged a move away from sugar toward ethanol and speciality chemicals, which had fewer price controls. Godavari is now the largest ethanol producer in India and prepping for an IPO.

It’s worth mentioning that sugarcane is a water-guzzling crop, which inspired some climate-conscious innovation on the side. Mandala mobilised another portfolio company, Jain Irrigation Systems, to install drip irrigation technology at the kind of plantations that supply Godavari’s feedstocks. Another investee, non-bank lender SAFL, helped those farmers finance the upgrade.

Garg sees drip irrigation as a game-changer in the mitigation of climate change impacts on agriculture. In effect, the technology circumvents the problem of erratic rainfall by supplying water directly to the roots of plants, simultaneously minimising waste, erosion, desalination, and pesticide contamination.

“Think of watering your plants at home but instead of just using a hose, you drip the water straight on the roots extremely slowly,” Garg said. “The water savings are greater than 50% and it’s also very climate friendly because fertilisers and nutrients are sometimes mixed with the water, and the slow application of this water means less runoff.”

Making an impact

Fund III is now in the market with a target of USD 200m and has secured an anchor commitment. It is hoped to benefit from the shift of global capital away from China and related food supply chain changes, as well as increasing understanding of climate issues and agriculture as a buyout opportunity.

There’s also a fair amount of exit activity to point to. Mandala is on track to return four out of four structured investments made via debt-like instruments by December and two out of eight equity deals by June. Another equity exit is expected by year-end. There are two divestments in process, a trade sale and a structured buyback, both described by Garg as “very good multiples.”

Mandala’s sharpening impact credentials are also likely to play a supporting role in fundraising, even if it’s an incidental effect. The firm has spent the past several years devising its own formulae to clear up the murk around impact measurement. Some of these have received patents.

“There’s a lot of confusion in the impact space, and it’s become a lot about paying agencies to sign up to their reporting standards or becoming signatories to different agendas. I didn’t feel that that was solving anything. We’ve worked with consultants that felt we were not doing a good job storytelling, and I say, ‘We don’t want to do storytelling – we want something more black-and-white,’” Garg said.

“The only way is to show numbers, but even with numbers, it can be deceiving. So, we’re looking at what impact do you get per dollar invested, which most people don’t do. This is something you do because you want to, or because you think it’s good. It shouldn’t be a strategy to raise money.”