Behind the Box: Helping the Under-Privileged with Jasberry Rice

Behind the Box: Helping the Under-Privileged with Jasberry Rice

Close to 30 years in the making, Jasberry is a brand new, organically-grown strain of rice that was developed by two young entrepreneurs. Not only is the rice full of healthful antioxidants and fiber, but the company itself aims to improve the conditions of impoverished rice farmers in Thailand. Here, Try The World Box Manager Lillian Lin speaks to the founders about how they took Jasberry rice from a simple research specimen to one of the most popular varieties of rice in Thailand.

The Jasberry team: Pornthida (Palmmy), Wiranya, Peetachai (Neil), Kwanchanok, and Nattinee | © Siam Organic

It started with two students in business school

Peetachai (Neil) Dejkraisak and Pornthida (Palmmy) Wongphatharakul first met in 2009 as MBA students at Sasin during a business plan competition. Both from Thailand, they wanted to create a business that would bring about both financial and social impact to Thai people. Helping the rice farmers emerged as the perfect solution: while Thailand is the second largest rice exporter in the world, many of its rice farmers are among the least fortunate. Determined to help these farmers, Neil and Palmmy found their answer when they encountered a world-class rice research lab from the National Research Council of Thailand. 

The research lab was initially hesitant to speak with Neil and Palmmy, but soon came around and invited them to the Thai countryside to see the results of their research. Over the last 30 years, the lab had developed more than 20 types of rice through cross-breeding, a process that relies on the natural reproduction of plants. The process is long: it takes close to 12 years for a breed to mature. Jasberry rice, the marriage of Thai jasmine rice and black rice, was their proudest development.

With the discovery of Jasberry rice, Neil and Palmmy formulated a business plan, established their company, called Siam Organic, and won a competition for entrepreneurs. Their prize was ringing the closing bell at NASDAQ! Siam Organic was the first Thai company to ever do this.

Finding the rice was just the beginning

Winning the competition, however, was just the beginning. The next step was convincing farmers in the region to grow the rice. Over the next two years, Neil and Palmmy focused on setting up farm cooperatives. True to their mission, the two sought out under-privileged communities to take on this project. Initially, many farmers cared only about making money, so they shirked on quality. Paired with ill-timed floods and droughts, many of the first harvests failed.

When Neil and Palmmy found the right farmers, they provided seeds to the farmers free of charge on the condition that they would grow them under internationally-recognized standards for organic agriculture. The farmers were then welcome to sell their Jasberry harvest to any buyer, but almost all of them ended up selling them back to Neil and Palmmy.

Making Jasberry rice a reality

Now, over 1,000 farmers grow Jasberry rice in the Eastern provinces of Yosathon and Roi Et. Yield continues to improve by more than 30% every year, and farmers are paid almost twice as much as they were in the beginning. Neil and Palmmy even host regular town hall meetings in the villages so that successful farmers can share their techniques with others who may be struggling.

2015 marks the first year that Jasberry rice has attained a sustainable and significant volume of production. Now that the harvest is more stable, Neil and Palmmy have begun to educate farmers about fiscal responsibility. They now even pilot microfinancing programs! Neil and Palmmy hope to grow their network to more than 20,000 farmers and pilot more projects to improve the quality of life of Thai farmers.

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