By Yvette Tan
Rice is an integral part of the Filipino diet. It’s present in all meals, from breakfast to dinner, even snacks. And yet it seems more and more of a challenge to get enough rice to feed the entire country. A rice processing complex in Alangalang, Leyte, wants to lead the way in reversing this.
The Chen Yi Agriventures Rice Processing Center is a two-hectare complex that houses the most advanced rice processing machinery in Southeast Asia. It is also the largest of its kind in the Visayas and Mindanao.
The inauguration of the Complex was graced by President Rodrigo Duterte and Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol. “When they reached out to us, we partnered them with Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice),” Piñol said. “I would say that this is the best of its kind in the country.”
The desire to help
The company is run by Patrick Renucci and Rachel Renucci-Tan, a husband and wife team who, four years ago, packed up their life in Paris and moved to Leyte after Typhoon Yolanda with the intention of uplifting the lives of local farmers through agribusiness.
Rachel was an investment banker and fund manager while Patrick ran one of the largest printing companies in France. After seeing the devastation Yolanda wrought, they decided to come home.
“We said, ‘In order to find more meaning in our lives, we’d like to come back to the Philippines and give back to the country, to my country,” Rachel said. “I dragged along my husband and the first thing we wanted to do was lift the province of Leyte from the ravages of Typhoon Yolanda. Alangalang is the granary of Leyte, that’s why we decided to set up our rice processing complex (here).”
“We are not farmers. We came here to do sustainable business. We came here because nobody would come here,” Patrick said. “We came here to change the way people farm, to increase the income of the farmer, to increase the yield of the farmer, and to get them out of the cycle of poverty.”
Delicious, nutritious rice
The facility, fully automated, costs R1.7 billion. “Since there’s no manual intervention, there’s much less room for error,” Rachel explained.
Once the rice is harvested, it is brought to the facility without ever touching the ground. The complex’s drying facilities have a continuous cleaning process that allows the grain to dry and kill pests before it is stored in temperature-controlled bins that allow it to stay in a freshly-harvested state. The rice is milled on demand. “We provide according to supply, not according to price. So when the consumers need our rice, that’s when we mill and process,” Rachel said.
The milling process uses Japanese technology so that the rice is processed less. “Our rice is very white because we work more on the polishing and therefore we manage to retain the essential nutrient. Our rice has the same fiber content as the brown rice and doubles the protein levels because of our industrial processes,” Rachel explained. “When you see Renucci Rice, it’s really white, it’s really clean, very light and we don’t spray chemicals, we don’t fumigate our rice. We use technology to keep out pests in our (packaging).”
Chen Yi works with about 5,000 farmers through the Renucci Partnership Program, providing them with high-quality seeds, fertilizers, and pest control, as well as giving them access to equipment and low-interest loans.
“The farmers that follow our protocol have achieved up to 200 kabans per hectare,” Rachel said. “Those who did not really follow are still able to double (their yield) from (the usual) 50 to 60 kabans to 80 to 100 kabans per hectare.”
The harvest is then bought through the Renucci Palay Procurement Program. “We go to the fields and buy the palay directly from the farmers in cash so that we avoid intermediaries so that all the benefits go directly to the farmers,” Rachel said.
Rejuvenating the industry
The Renuccis are optimistic about their endeavor. “(We’re) very excited that we have come to this stage. We started with just faith in God and faith in ourselves. We moved from Paris and Hong Kong and London to Alangalang, Leyte. We didn’t know anyone, we’re not from here, and we’re foreigners. We’ve had many challenges, many times we’ve wanted to give up but we said that we should prevail and we’re still here,” Rachel said.
“My deepest wish is for our model to be replicated across the country,” she added. “Then, there would be less (need) to rely on imports because food security is really important.”
The rice variety is called Dalisay and will be sold under the brand name Renucci Rice. “We know where the seed comes from, that’s why we call it ‘Dalisay,’” Rachel said. “We want that when you say ‘Dalisay,’ you’ll think ‘oh it’s from Leyte.’”
Renucci Rice will be available in leading supermarkets by August.