JALA CEO Liris Maduningtyas sees unlimited potential in Indonesia’s shrimp industry

Liris Maduningtyas, the CEO of Indonesia-based startup JALA.

Yogyakarta, Indonesia-based JALA, a startup offering a suite of products and services to aid shrimp farmers in the cultivation process and in navigating the industrial supply chain, recently completed a USD 13.1 million (EUR 12 million) Series A fundraising round.

Led by co-founders Aryo Wiryawan and Liris Maduningtyas, JALA aims to bring technological improvements to the shrimp-farming industry in Indonesia. Through its app, JALA provides farmers with analysis built off real-time data and connected equipment, access to farming assistance, financing, supplies and equipment, and services to effectively bring their harvests to market. JALA’s farm credit scoring service, launched in 2023, gives farmers the ability to improve their creditworthiness and gain access to additional financing options.

In an interview with SeafoodSource, Liris said the new funding will be used to expand and scale up its operations across Indonesia and trial the app in selected international markets.

SeafoodSource: How did JALA get started?

Liris: The founders met each other in 2014 through a shrimp-farming research project. Aryo has been farming shrimp since 2001, and he was desperate to have technology that would allow him to monitor his farms remotely and in real time. He also saw wider demand for the technology, and he gathered a team and founded JALA in 2017.

That same year, we won the ASEAN Impact Challenge. At the time, we were solely focused on the technology for shrimp – providing an app powered by IoT for shrimp farm management – to help farmers navigate the difficulties of farming through data. Primarily, we were focused on water quality testing. We launched the app in 2019, and in 2020, we launched the hardware. 

We immediately saw huge growth in the number of users from the shrimp-farming industry in Indonesia, and it was getting bigger during Covid in 2020. But, we were struggling to get revenue from the technology because we were giving it away for free. Fortunately, through the app, we were able to collect data about when they were harvesting and how much they were harvesting and that allowed us to expand our businesses with processors and form and grow our financing businesses. That’s when it clicked. In 2021, everything came together where we were finally able to offer end-to-end solutions in which we provide not only technology to assist farmers but also access to market and financing.

SeafoodSource: What is your background?

Liris: I’m an electrical engineer. I began working for oil and gas companies in 2014, and in 2016, I was in between jobs and back home in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, when I joined JALA as an intern for Aryo. By 2017, they decided to get me involved as a founder.

SeafoodSource: What do you think of the aquaculture industry so far?

Liris: It is very interesting. When I worked with oil and gas companies, I was working with multiple sensors, multiple data points, and multiple uses of technology such as sonar and radio sensors – everything just to get to the point where we understood where the oil was. 

When I came to aquaculture, there were no sensors at that time. Sensors were quite an expensive thing. Very few farmers were using them. I toured a farm, and when I asked them how they tested the water quality, they put their finger in the pond and licked their finger to test its taste. For me, as an engineer, it didn’t make sense. I want to operate with the best data; that’s when I saw there was a good opportunity for me to help create a solution. I wanted to help integrate technology into the shrimp industry; to me, it was an open field of opportunity in aquaculture.

SeafoodSource: How involved were you in creating JALA's technology? It sounds like you have a background in at least using it. Did you help create some of the solutions that JALA has developed?

Liris: I have helped with everything for JALA – assembling the devices, designing the product, working with the manufacturing customers, trying to get investments, and doing financial reports. So, I feel like I know every aspect of the business.

SeafoodSource: What are the long-term goals for the company, and how is the investment JALA recently received going to help it accomplish those goals?

Liris: We currently have 20,000 users across Indonesia, but our operation focuses on [the island of] Java, where we operate our trading and financing businesses. This funding grant of USD 13.1 million [EUR 12 million] will help us expand outside of Java to Sulawesi on the eastern side of Indonesia, as well as the west side of Indonesia in Sumatra.

At the same time, we have many clients from overseas who are reaching out and paying subscriptions for our technology organically. So, we were thinking we could also conduct product technology introductions in neighboring countries like Vietnam and Thailand.

SeafoodSource: What is the potential of Indonesia as a shrimp producer?

Liris: For Southeast Asia, we’re number one. Vietnam is the top exporter, but it imports 60 percent to 70 percent of its shrimp. Vietnam is also the best processor in Southeast Asia, but on the producing side, Indonesia is number one in the region.

The potential for Indonesia is huge. The coastal area of the country is massive and already provides 600,000 hectares of potential area for shrimp farms, but at the moment, we’re still operating with very low income. Therefore, intensive farms in Indonesia are still fewer than 100,000 hectares total, and 250,000 hectares of shrimp farms are still using traditional practices. That means around 50 percent of potential production areas are underutilized. You can imagine the country’s potential in the long run if we can improve the land that has already been converted into ponds and just focus on improving their productivity.

At the same time, we need to avoid harming the environment. There are so many ponds that are sitting idle here; if we just focus on using technology to improve the existing shrimp farms in Indonesia, we can do so much to tackle the issue of food security and supply the entire world with shrimp. These are farms that have been opened in the past three decades, and what we can do is replant mangroves there while intensifying farming on the ponds – preserving the environment but also producing more food. I know a lot of people focus on vertical farming, but we have plenty of area that we can improve the productivity of, which I think is a more sustainable solution.

SeafoodSource: The other company doing something similar to JALA in Indonesia is eFishery. How is JALA different?

Liris: eFishery is also from Indonesia, but it was very focused on fish until 2021; the product that we’re already offering to shrimp farmers is the product they are soon introducing as well. On the product side, we’re quite similar. We’re offering technology, trading, market access, and a financing solution, so it's basically almost the same.

What’s different is our business strategy. eFishery has huge pockets of money, and they use that money to basically offer huge discounts. JALA is not doing the same because we know that it's not sustainable, and as a company, we really focus on operating a sustainable and profitable business. We go to the market with a community strategy, so our social media and our user engagement all focus on the communities. We grew our user base within the communities, and we build loyalty through those communities instead of trying to capture them through discounts. That's what separates us from the big guy. It's like David versus Goliath; yes, we’re the smaller one at the moment, but we are very focused on client relationships, user engagement, and loyalty. We target a specific area with specific clients. 

Service is what we’re focused on, and being data-driven. That's what makes us different than eFishery, which, by the way, has 20 times more employees, as we have 100 people on our team and they have more than 2,000.

SeafoodSource: eFishery is now valued at over USD 1.3 billion (EUR 1.2 billion). Does JALA want to be that big? You talk about the company as being very community-focused and having the ability to pay attention to individual farmers, but if you get bigger, you may lose some of that. Is that a concern? 

Liris: We want to be that big, yes, but our goal is ... 

Photo courtesy of JALA

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