After more than half a decade of efforts by the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Co-operatives and the group of farmers in Sri Saket province to reach a wider market, organic jasmine rice “Rice Buddy” has finally found a friend in Tesco Lotus. Previously available through a smaller distribution channel, now Rice Buddy will be sold across 121 Tesco Lotus hypermarkets around Thailand as well as the online grocery shopping platform. The targeted volume this year should surpass 20 tonnes, still with a huge room for growth, as Tesco Lotus currently operates more than 1,800 stores nationwide.
The concept behind “Rice Buddy” was for farmers and consumers to sell and buy directly, without going through middlemen. The “buddies” connect through the help of organisations such as Channel 3 and Tesco Lotus, who form “bridges” that raise awareness and drive sales in a much larger scale than would have been possible.
Mr. Charkrit Direkwattanachai, Head of Corporate Communications and Sustainability at Tesco Lotus, said: “The very concept of Rice Buddy is very much what Tesco Lotus stands behind. We launched our direct sourcing programme since 2010, with the volume of fruits and vegetables purchased directly from farmers increasing every year. This year, we will be purchasing more than 150,000 tonnes of local produce through direct sourcing. The partnership we have forged with the farmers, the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Co-operatives, and Channel 3, is under the Pracha Rath framework, whereby the strengths of each partner are leveraged to help drive grassroots economy. Tesco Lotus is not only the channel of distribution with a nationwide multi-platform reach, but we are able to also lend our expertise in customer insight, product quality, and retail, to the farmers.”
“I’m pleased that Tesco Lotus is serving as the bridge between our customers and the farmers. What comes out of this partnership is the greater incentive for farmers to continue to grow organic rice, despite the much more complicated process. The ability to reach a far larger market will mean a growth in revenue for the farmers, and as they continue to grow their capabilities, customers will have access to superior quality organic products.”
Mr. Adirek Wongkongkam, Vice President, Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Co-operatives, added that: “This partnership marks a very significant milestone for the farmers and the bank, as our intention from the beginning was to reach a large market of consumers through the help of a modern retail operator with a nationwide network. Buying organic rice will be simple and affordable. Farmers will have more incentive to produce quality organic rice.”
“The question was how to strike that balance between economic growth, social responsibility, and environmental preservation. Farmers are able to achieve a better quality of life thanks to a higher income and chemicals-free farming. Consumers are able to consume safe rice. Typically, the price of unmilled rice is 13,000 baht per cart, while its organic counterpart fetches 20,000 baht. For milled organic rice, farmers receive 40,000 baht per cart. We target that by the end of 2016, we will have sold more than 20 tonnes of Rice Buddy rice through Tesco Lotus.”
Mr. Chuanchai Buaphu, rice farmer and President of the Agricultural Marketing Co-operatives Limited, said that: “Convincing the farmers to switch from normal rice to grow certified organic rice took no less than five years. Through that period, the farmers who took part in the programme overcame a number of obstacles until they received certifications including Q ORGANIC, EU, USDA, IFOAM, and ORGANIC THAILAND. Organic farming requires a lot of patience. Productivity in the beginning is only around 500 kilograms per rai. Without patience and far-sightedness, some farmers switch back to growing rice non-organically, using pesticides to deal with plagues and ensure higher productivity.”
Mr. Sumran Chatto, Executive Vice President, Channel 3, said that “The Channel 3 Family Foundation took part in the Rice Buddy project to use our power to reach a nationwide audience and promote the organic rice. This not only helps the farmers, but also consumers who can purchase chemicals-free rice very conveniently, wherever they are in Thailand.”
Rice Buddy is a brand of organic jasmine rice grown in the Thung Kula Rong Hai plain, which covers five provinces in Thailand. The rice received the Q ORGANIC certification, testifying its safety and quality. Rain water and herbal remedies are used in place of pesticides. The rice is milled by the ISO 17065 certified rice mill in Sri Saket province operated by the Agricultural Marketing Co-operatives Limited.