Rice Up: Rachel Renucci-Tan Uplifts The Lives of Farmers
October 12, 2020
photos Miguel Abesamis of Studio 100

Rachel Renucci-Tan and her husband Patrick Renucci were happily living successful lives in Paris when Typhoon Yolanda was ravaging the Philippines. “We saw the images on TV of Yolanda really destroying the province of Leyte, and I realized we had to do something,” says Rachel, “we couldn’t just sit there and stare at the Eiffel Tower and sip champagne.” Feeling like they had to do something, they left everything behind and moved to the Philippines.

Their efforts were initially to help the province recover. During that period, they observed the abundance of rice fields, but the lack of proper facilities. “We decided to help uplift the rice farmers of Leyte, help them recover from poverty brought about by Typhoon Yolanda,” says Rachel, “and then to produce world-class rice for the Filipino people by building the most technologically advanced rice processing complex in Southeast Asia.

Chen Yi Agventures, which produces Dalisay Rice is the first sustainable rice business on a mass scale in the Philippines, focusing on viable production and food self-sufficiency in the Philippines. The Chen Yi Agventures Rice Processing Center (RPC) in Alangalang, Leyte is the leader in South East Asia, with a fully automated production process that is centralized and operated from touch screens. Temperature controls help keep the palay fresh and ready for milling, a process that uses Japanese technology to purify the air, ensuring the air blown out is clean and safe to breathe in. “The local rice industry has no base standard for what makes good quality rice,” says Rachel, “for most other companies, they’re not concerned about the quality, because for them it’s about making profits.” She mentions the practice of mixing low quality, imported rice from Thailand or Vietnam that has been in storage for a few years with local rice, fumigated and sold in the market. “We have a different model, we believe in working with the farmers, empowering our key stakeholder, our producers of palay. We believe in quality, and we fight for it,” she says, “so even if our profits are not as high as the importers we stick to producing only local rice.”

Breaking the Wheel

Pivoting from a different industry into agribusiness was a challenge, although Rachel says she and Patrick knew this from the very beginning. “My husband and I are entrepreneurs, and we have no qualms about executing on a vision and embracing the risks that come with embarking on a new venture and investing our own funds,” she says. What was difficult was changing the mindset of the farmers. “The situation of the Filipino farmer is that they have no access to capital. They’re victims of poverty, victims of the vicious cycle of debt,” says Rachel, “they were entrenched in the mindset of borrowing from usurious lenders or selling their inputs
to others to get the cash to repay their debt.”

To combat this, the Renuncci Partnership Program provides low-interest loans in kind to the farmer. “We provide high-quality seeds, fertilizers from Norway, full pest management control, and mechanization and they pay us back in time, in palay, at the end of harvest,” says Rachel, “rather than worrying about their debt with us, by providing them these high-quality inputs with a low-interest loan, they can focus on planting.” Their extension support includes field monitors that check if farmers are following the prescribed planting protocol, applying the fertilizers, managing their fields, water, and pest control, mechanizing their land prep and planting their harvest.

Sustainability Over Profit

When they left behind their cushy life in Europe, most of Rachel’s friends did not understand, “They thought I was crazy,” she shares, “I didn’t get much empathetic understanding. But we persisted.” Their persistence began to bear fruit when they started soft selling Dalisay Rice to their friends, all of whom said it was the best rice they had tried in their lives. “We were encouraged by that, and then with no distributor, we single-handedly were able to penetrate 150 supermarkets on our own, and the sales are doing well. We’re frequently sold out,” says Rachel.

Last year, they were awarded Third Place by The Rice Trader’s World Rice Conference, with a contest conducted by international chefs who inspected the visual and sensory aspects of the rice (both pre-cooked and cooked). “For the first time ever, the Philippines was awarded as a top producer, instead of just being the world’s largest importer of rice,” says Rachel, “so this award should make every Filipino proud.”

Read the full story written by Sara Siguion-Reyna in Lifestyle Asia’s September 2020 issue titled, “Have Courage.”

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