And who taught us about brown rice? A young entrepreneur who also taught us about wines from Argentina.
He is Carlo Calma Lorenzana who went back to Davao in 2009 following a job at a TV station and a drugstore chain in Manila.
“I wanted to be a politician,” he says with all candor. “After working in these companies I then realized I can make a change not through politics, but through business.”
The Lorenzanas found a rundown rice mill in Davao del Sur whose operations were not very efficient; and soon Carlo found himself reorganizing the operations with his mother.
After we were introduced in 2010 during one of our visits to Davao, Carlo started supplying us with his freshly-milled brown rice called “SunMade.”
I thought it was nice for a young man to brand a commodity like rice and hope to succeed in it. So we supported his cause, just knowing it was freshly-milled and was good to serve in our ECHOcafe and our erstwhile restaurant Le Bistro Vert.
To further promote brown rice, we even held a media event for his brown rice paella served with his other passion, Lagarde Argentinian Malbecs, a wine we got to know well because of Carlo. We served only brown rice in our two places because we knew the source. After all, Le Bistro Vert and ECHOcafe promoted “farm to table” and traceable ingredients.
We met Carlo again for lunch recently yet at another baby of his, La Cabrera Argentinian Grill or Parilla. And we soon learned of the many developments in his rice business.
Now we know that he developed the business from zero to a few hundred tons a year of milling organic rice from farmers he knows in a 20-hectare area in Davao del Sur. “Why didn’t you say it was organic?” I asked. He answered that he still needs certification but that it was on his plate to now start this process.
Then he went on to tell us other good news: He hires women to sort the rice, remove black and damaged grains, and ensure all the rice he packs are clean of foreign matter.
He works with a female agritechnologist, a woman supervisor in the mill and of course the top gun is his mother. How nice of this empowered young man to relate to us his secrets for success: the women behind him and on top of him.
Nothing bad about hiring men versus women. It just so happened that the women are the ones who like the business of rice sorting and grading. And making sure all his clients get the best freshly-milled brown rice there is.
Carlo knows the window for local rice protection from foreign imports will soon close. So he is doing his homework. He has many clients but he is hard-pressed looking for more farmers who are willing to follow his standards. He also needs more financial muscle to assure farmers he will be there to buy when they come up with their produce.
Sadly, farmers have short financial cycles and need to be paid as soon as they bring their crop to the mill. As he monitors his organic rice producers, making sure they can deliver the needed volume, he sometimes loses them to traders who just bring out the money and are not part of any organic protocol. Traders then mix these rice with other harvests and the whole lot does not become organic anymore.
It is the same with coffee and any other fresh crop. Organic produce gets mixed or “jumbled” with other lesser kinds, and then get the same commodity prices at market level. While we have the likes of Carlo paying a premium for organic rice to the farmer, economics sometimes forces the farmer to sell out to traders even at just a peso less per kilo.
So, this is where Carlo will be getting help. From people who know the organic supply chain and the difficulty of keeping it pure and unadulterated. We will refer him to Peace and Equity Foundation, who now helps farmers scale up, and processors and marketers like Carlo to scale up as well.
Carlo has come up with is business model.Organic brown rice that is freshly-milled in his own premises and sold directly to specialty stores and supermarkets. He has taken care of the supply chain and assured his buyers that he will come up with the required volumes. Trademarked as “SunMade” brown rice, his brand is now carried by many supermarkets who sell the vacuum-packed variety. Fresh organic rice must be vacuum-packed to prevent the natural bugs from growing. So, make a note of that and do not prick that vacuum pack as it allows natural insects to multiply. Remember that what is good for insects is good for man. And that is the test of natural.
His model is replicable elsewhere in the country and he hopes to be able to do this business style in the Visayas and in Luzon as well. Given that profits are marginal, transporting rice is not a very sound business idea. So it has to be milled closest to source.
He proudly shares that his “freshly milled” idea came by accident. He did not have much money to turn around so he would buy rice only as soon as orders came—he then had “freshly-milled” rice, which became his selling point. And it is organic because he protected a number of hectares of rice and made sure organic practices were in force. He also paid a nice premium to the farmers to keep the rice pesticide-free.
Carlo may not become the politician as he dreamed to be. But he definitely wins the hearts of many farmers much better than how a politician could ever win them.
Chit Juan is founder and president of ECHOstore Sustainable Lifestyle located in Serendra, Podium, Centris, Davao City, Makati and Cebu. She is also president of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and the Philippine Coffee Board Inc. She often speaks to corporates, academe and entrepreneurs about her advocacies: Social Enterprise, Women Empowerment and Coffee. You can reach her at email@example.com or find her on Twitter@Chitjuan, Instagram: CHITJUAN or Linked In: Pacita Juan.