Have you ever heard anyone compare growing rice grains to ageing whisky or harvesting truffles? Rice Inc believes that the best-tasting rice come from empowered farmers, which is why they reinvest 20 per cent of all profits back into global sustainable rice initiatives. The company not only works with villages in Myanmar and Sabah to cultivate an impact space, improving efficiency and yield, but also develops their own brand of rice called Paddi, a direct-trade rice brand.
We interview co-founders Lincoln Lee and Kisum Chan; operations director Zheyi Chia; and rice impact deputy chairman Jonathan Ong about starting a 'rice revolution'. The three Malaysians and one HongKonger (Chan) recently appeared on the inaugural 50 Next list from 50 Best.
How did the team meet?
Lincoln Lee: Kisum and I were coursemates studying biomedical sciences in University College London (UCL). In 2018, we both decided to participate in the Hult Prize, a United Nations competition hosted by President Clinton, which challenges university students to come up with a social enterprise. The topic for our year was harnessing the power of energy to impact 10 million people by 2025. Kisum and I focused on agriculture, as we wanted to concentrate on issues in Southeast Asia.
We discovered that up to 30 per cent of rice is wasted before it arrives on our plates.
We found this odd—how can a food that feeds 4 billion people everyday garner so much waste? This thought is what inspired Kisum and I to start Rice Inc, which eventually won us the Hult Prize. I knew Jonathan from university, who later joined the team and helped us with initial accounting issues. He later introduced us to Zheyi, who had experience working in rural communities, when we were trying to expand our impact work.