I am Filipino,” says Rachel Renucci-Tan, who with her Italian-French husband Patrick Renucci, have disrupted the local rice industry with Dalisay Rice.
“I’ve been there, done that, away half my life, lived in eight countries. Now I have come home.
“The Philippines has nurtured me. Everything I know, everything I’ve learned, came from here.”
“Friends ask why I don’t have a French passport. What if things turn bad here, they say. I tell them, what will happen to make me want to leave? My roots are here.”
In the Philippines where many citizens dream of going abroad, it is refreshing to meet someone who has chosen to return.Her spouse has grown to love it as well.
“Manila is safer than Paris [in many ways],” says Patrick. “People here are nice. I am not saying other peoples are not nice, but Filipinos are sincere [when treating each other].”
It takes a foreigner to view our country with fresh eyes, I say.“The future is here,” says Patrick.
There is a lot of poverty, I say.
“There is poverty, but you don’t see misery,” says Patrick. “People may be poor, but they are happy. And there are so many opportunities here.”
“But Rachel and I do not want to go just for the easy money.”
Ever pragmatic, Rachel adds, “Instead of doing another restaurant, franchise, clothes store, we want to contribute in a way that will give lasting value to the country. Here I have access to resources, networks [to do so].”Last week, we discussed how despite the daunting roadblocks the couple faced, from skeptical farmers to dishonest managers, they have succeeded in producing fresh, tasty, healthy rice in Alangalang, Leyte.
Chen Yi Agventures gives farmers access to seeds from the Philippine Rice Research Institute, and technologies to maximize yields. Their rice processing facility, the most modern in Southeast Asia, with temperature-controlled silos and computerized dryers, formally opened in July 2019 in Alangalang.The structure can withstand supertyphoons of more than 350 kph (Yolanda, whose havoc had motivated the couple to help in the first place, had winds of 315 kph). With 500 pipes buried 21 meters deep in the earth, the plant can withstand earthquakes of intensity 7.The result is literally pure Dalisay rice, with seeds stored perfectly so that no sprays need to be used to counter pests. Palay is milled on demand—not so much a marketing strategy—but to ensure the freshness of the rice.
After launching Dalisay rice in Forbes Park, “we have made rice sexy,” says Rachel.
Substance lies beneath the style. I listen as Rachel, a philosophy major with an MBA, and Patrick, a printing press entrepreneur, analyze the rice crisis in the country, shattering economic myths with sobering facts and figures (did you know that farmers use up 50 percent of their profit to pay off their never-ending spiraling debts?). That’s another story in itself.
The proof lies in visible, incontrovertible facts. The couple first traveled to Leyte in 2015. In only four years, the benefits have been immense.
Many farmers have increased their take-home income by at least 10 times, transforming Alangalang into a second-class municipality, with Jollibee and Andok’s chicken stores.
In July 2019, Rachel received the Bravo Award for Empowered Women in S & T, sponsored by the Zonta Club of Makati and Environs and Security Bank.
In August, after a tour of the rice processing facility, President Duterte was so impressed that he raised the possibility of a Philippine citizenship to Patrick.
In November, Dalisay Rice won third prize at the World Rice Conference held at the Makati Shangri-la, beating 30 of the world’s top rice varieties.
“Thailand, Vietnam, India, China, Japan, the US, all top rice producers, are net exporters,” says Rachel. “Only the Philippines is a net importer and not known for producing good rice.
“The other countries continued to perfect their varieties and sent samples to the committee for feedback. Their rice was presented on velvet-lined boxes. We joined at the last minute, with no preparation, just a two-kilogram pack off the supermarket. By some miracle, we won.”
Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the Board of Directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Contact the author at [email protected]
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