The Superfood That Lifts Thai Farmers Out Of Poverty
Jasberry rice is a variety of GMO-free, antioxidant-rich, organic purple rice planted by farmers in the Northeastern parts of Thailand.
The planting of Jasberry rice was introduced by Siam Organic, a 2011-founded social enterprise whose mission is to “transform the quality of life for Thai farmers in a sustainable manner through innovative organic products for organic markets.” In less than six years, Siam Organic has gone from taking 20 to 1,026 farmers out of poverty.
The rice was so-named for its jasmine-rice-like qualities (“Jas”) and its powerful antioxidant benefits (like “berries”) – among all the rice varieties, it claims to have the highest levels of anthocyanin, vitamin E and beta-carotene.
The unique looking rice contains 10 times more antioxidants that green tea and 2.8 times more antioxidants that blueberries, making it the best value-for-money antioxidant compared to other superfoods.
In 2017, Siam Organic is also launching organic, gluten-free pasta made with Jasberry rice and a variety of superfoods like moringa, tumeric, acai berry and matcha. The products will be available in the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand this year, and Asian consumers can expect the product to hit shelves in 2018.
With the sales of Jasberry rice, teas and flour, the Thai farmers’ daily income has risen from USD 0.40 to USD 6; Jasberry rice sells for twice the amount of jasmine rice, of which approximately 30 per cent goes to the farmers. “The rest goes into logistics and distributors,” reveals Peetachai Dejkraisak, CEO of Siam Organic.
The costs make sense: the superfood rice is currently sold in Thailand and USA, where demand is stronger. Its founding company, Siam Organic, is in talks to make the rice available in Hong Kong, Singapore and the European Union, where “consumers understand the health values better”. The long-term plan is to have logistics be more efficient, Dejkraisak added.
“The Northeast of Thailand is the most impoverished area of the whole country,” said co-founder Pornthida Wongphatharakul. “The land is low quality soil. They have only one rainy season. The farmers need to maximize the highest income they can get.”
“Everyone knows there is a problem with farmers’ poverty in Thailand, few businesses believe that for a problem to be solved in a sustainable manner, we need to have sustainable market solutions. It’s not just teaching – [you have to know] where you will sell the product. You cannot continue donating forever.”
It is with this in mind that Dejkraisak and Wongphatharakul work with the farmers to teach them to reduce farming costs and increase their yields. While the farmers own all the equipment (mills included) for processing the rice, Siam Organics’ five-person office seeks out partnerships and builds demand. “Seed to market is impossible – there are a thousand things we have to do. We set up the system and babysit them during the initial stages. Once operations get going, they can do [the work on] their own,” explained Wongphatharakul.
“We hope to reach 20,000 farmers in the next three years,” said Dejkraisak.
Of the company’s business model, Dejkraisak adds: “Social enterprise in agriculture makes sense because trust is needed. The work we do is based so much on trust, and it takes years to develop trust. A social enterprise is very powerful in this industry.”
The company has recently beat more than 80 startups to come in first place at the US President Barack Obama’s 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit’s ‘Spark the Fire’ pitch competition in Silicon Valley. Siam Organic has partnered with KIVA (a microfinancing platform) and Oxfam, the latter of which assessed Siam Organic’s social impact. Form 2015 to 2016, the Social Return on Investment (SROI) has increased from 4.3 to 5.7.
When asked if the response to Siam Organic has always been this good, Dejkraisak replied: “The response to has been challenging. After 5 years, we’re finally starting to get recognition for the work we do.”
Interested in Asian organic farming social enterprises that uplift and empower communities? Check out our articles on Thailand's Hilltribe Organics, Taiwan's Buy Directly From Farmers and this video on Taiwanese social enterprise, Aurora.
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