What Does it Take to Transform the Rice Industry? An Interview with 2 Experts
SVN sat down for an interview with Caryl Levine and Kenneth Lee, founders of Lotus Foods. Check it out!
SVN: The two of you have set out to transform the way the world grows rice. In keeping with the theme of the Social Venture Network (SVN) Spring Conference, Courageous Conversations, how much of your success can be attributed to courage?
Caryl Levine: It takes courage from our supply chain. We are working with farmers who have never exported their rice before. But, they have the courage to change the way they have been growing rice all their lives, and how it’s been grown for centuries.
Kenneth Lee: It always starts with a few brave farmers in a village to try System of Rice Intensification (SRI) methods. By the end of the first season, their neighbors are saying, “What are you doing and how can I get involved?” For us, we think more about our ability to manage risk. We have to create value chains from scratch. What we are doing is risky.
SVN: The Social Venture Network fosters partnerships. What value do you find in partnerships?
Caryl Levine: We are able to expand our impact through partnerships. Agriculture is full of many challenges. Our rice farmers don’t have access to capital for seeds, for fertilizer, to build their own mills, or for the infrastructure to store rice. And then, there’s the challenge of educating consumers about all the complex issues related to global rice production. Everything hinges on relationships and building trust. For instance, Whole Foods is a large platform and Lotus Foods is a small company. But, we need one another. It’s how our comparative strengths work together. From the Social Venture Network to the natural foods industry, from grassroots organizations to farmers all around the world, relationships have been a source of courage for us. They also keep us on track.
Kenneth Lee: Transforming how rice is grown is pioneering work. We have a long way to go. Many players will need to act in concert to get the job done. We were lucky, for example, that when Cornell (CIIFAD) was promoting the benefits of SRI, one of their staff persons interested in marketing aspects discovered Lotus Foods on the shelf at Whole Foods. We soon found that we shared the same values and could strengthen one another’s missions. It was a no brainer.
Caryl Levine and Kenneth Lee are the founders of Lotus Foods, producers of distinctive ancient and new rices grown on family farms on healthy, chemical-free soils.
Attend the Social Venture Network Spring Conference, Courageous Conversations.
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SVN Interviewer: Martha Shaw, founder and CEO of Earth Advertising which promotes environmentally sustainable businesses.