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Insight Investment hires Olam strategy head – exclusive

The global agri fund manager has hired Shankar Athreya as head of farmland investments.

Global agriculture fund manager Insight Investment has hired Shankar Athreya as head of farmland investments. Athreya is due to start in a few weeks’ time after relocating to London from Singapore.

Athreya joins Insight from Olam International, the Singapore agribusiness, where he was global head of strategy and business development. In that role he led mergers and acquisitions, investments, joint ventures and disposals in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Athreya is taking the same title that Martin Davies had when he left Insight to join US agri asset manager Westchester in September, as revealed by Agri Investor. But Athreya’s role will be quite different because the team has evolved since Davies left, according to Reza Vishkai, head of specialist investments group at Insight.

“Our capabilities have evolved since Martin left, in terms of the range of things we can do and intend to do,” he said. “David Beca, our head of farmland management, has taken on more responsibilities and Shankar is bringing substantial transactional capabilities across many regions and agricultural commodities, so from that standpoint his skill set and expertise fit really well in terms of where we are going with our business.”

This evolution and Athreya’s experience could see Insight, which has a globally diversified own-and-operate farmland investment fund, invest further up the value chain.

“We may expand the scope of investments we look at,” said Vishkai. “If opportunities emerge to look at processing businesses, for example, that may allow us to capture a bigger portion of the profit margins available, then we would consider that. We now have a much great capability in terms of analysing those types of investments.”

Insight closed its first fund, which is now fully invested into dairy, beef and mixed grains farms across Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Poland and Romania, on $250 million in 2013. It is currently fundraising for a second vehicle, according to several sources away from the firm, although Vishkai and others at the company would not provide any information or confirmation of this process citing fund marketing regulations.

Athreya will report to Vishkai. “I have been impressed by Insight’s commitment to becoming a leading asset manager in this growing asset class and am looking forward to being part of the team,” he said in a press release.