Cultivating Markets for Sustainably Produced Rice
Lotus Foods, a global innovator in the production and marketing of specialty rice, joined the Business Call to Action (BCtA) with a commitment to increase the incomes of at least 3,000 additional farm households by 2017.
As part of this effort, the company is paving the way to market for smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia who adopt the ecological and climate-smart method of rice cultivation known as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). In the process of helping farmers who are growing rice more sustainably to make livable incomes, the company is bringing healthier rice choices to consumers.
Established in 1995, Lotus Foods has become dominant in linking marginalized farmers to major markets, having pioneered the introduction of heirloom black and red rice into the United States. The SRI production method, which is being applied by more than 10 million farmers in over 50 countries, has allowed Lotus to assist farmers who are generating surpluses by doubling their rice yields with less water, land, chemicals and greenhouse gas emissions.
Introduction of this growing method to its farmer-producers led Lotus to surpass its early goals and increase the amount of SRI-produced rice it purchases from organic-certified farmers in Cambodia, Indonesia and Madagascar. While initially the rice was sold only in bulk, in 2010 the company launched its unique heirloom rice varieties in retail packaging with a unique symbol and the tagline More Crop Per Drop. With its aggressive outreach and a social media consumer-education campaign, Lotus rices are now available in food retailers across the United States, including Whole Foods and Costco.
Lotus has been an important catalyst for farmers to obtain organic and fair trade certifications, in addition to producing according to SRI methods, in order to earn higher export premiums. Over 3,000 farming families are now benefitting from the organic and fair trade premiums paid by the company for consumer-friendly products, increasing rice farmers incomes by 20 to 40 percent.
In partnership with Whole Foods, Lotus is continuing to innovate new product lines including rice crackers, ramen and other rice-based products. The companys Heat & Eat Rice Bowls are fully cooked, shelf-stable products that contain heirloom, organic and fair trade rice grown with the SRI method and are ready to eat in 90 seconds.
Demonstrating the scalability of small-scale farmers-driven food production, Lotus Foods plans to further expand SRI rice cultivation for its brand into countries such as India, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
In the next two years, the company aims to double the number of producer farmers from 3,000 to 6,000, and double the quantity of rice imported from SRI farmers. By opening new value chains, Lotus will not only increase farmers incomes and conserve natural resources it will introduce healthier rice choices to countless more consumers.