We spoke to Ms. Pornthida Wongphatharakul (Palmmy) who is the co-founder of Siam Organic, based at Thailand that recently received a Grand Prize of S$75,000 in seed funding in the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia (SVC Asia). Siam Organic aims to alleviate farmers’ poverty through innovative organic products, including its nutritious Jasberry™ rice.
Can you tell us more about your flagship product “Jasberry”?
Jasberry® is a new variety of rice, developed through natural cross breeding method (non-GMO) in Thailand. It is dark purple in colour, which gives the rice very high antioxidants level. Jasberry rice is grown by small-scale farmers from North Eastern part of Thailand, which is the most impoverished part of the country. Jasberry rice is also certified organic under USDA & EU standards.
What are the nutritional benefits of it?
The key benefits of Jasberry rice is its nutritional properties, mainly the antioxidants, anthocyanin which has been widely documented to have anti-cancer and anti-aging properties.
The result of lab testing of the rice shows Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC value) of 13,370 mg/100g (done by 3rd party international nutrition lab), which is almost 3 times higher than blueberries, and also higher than any variety of rice you can find in the market (because antioxidants barely exist in white rice). The rice is also 100% wholegrain, but still very soft in texture and has a nice aroma that goes very well with many types of cuisine.
How are you improving the quality of life for the farmers, through your venture?
Thai farmers have an average earning of USD 0.40 per day, this is 6 times below the national poverty line. Our business includes improvement of farmers’ conditions from the start by providing pure organic rice seeds, organic fertilisers, farming inputs, training and exchanging of best practices among the farmers, micro-financing (through Kiva platform), and guaranteed market by offering to purchase all output at up to 200% higher price than the regular jasmine white rice price.
So besides earning higher price from their produces, farmers also benefits from lowering their cost and increasing of yields under this project. We also allow farmers to keep 25% of Jasberry rice for their household personal consumption, this also reflects in improvement of their health as well.
All farmers grow Jasberry rice under international organic certified standards. This is not only for their own health, but also to ensure that the end products are at the safest quality for end consumers.
What are some of your achievements?
From the work we have done over the past 5 years, we are now working with 1,026 farmers from North Easter part of Thailand. Besides increase of income, we have also improved their yield and reduce their farming input costs. Their income has increased from USD 0.40 per day to USD 5.8 per day, an increase of approximately 14 times.
How is it demonstrating a positive, scalable and sustainable social impact?
Our company has been assessed by 3rd party Social Impact Organization, Shujog, [www.shujog.org] who did a social impact measurement on our company under a sponsorship under GRAISEA program (OXFAM-sponsorship on women empowerment or Gender-transformative and Responsible Agribusiness Investments in South East Asia), as most of our farmers and the head of Grower cooperatives are female. The result of SROI is 4.3 times. Which means that every 1 dollar we invest in Siam Organic, it generates 4.3 dollar social return to the farmers.
We plan to scale up our impact to reach 20,000 farmers within 3 years. In addition, our project has been running for approximately 5 years while the company has been financially sustainable thus proving the sustainability of our social business model, to generate both social and financial returns.
Who are the co-founders of Siam Organic Exports? How and why did you start this company?
The co-founders are Peetachai Dejkraisak & Pornthida Wongphatharakul (Me). We met during our MBA at Sasin Graduate Institute, Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok, Thailand). Upon graduation, we came across this issue of poverty among 17 million Thai farmers and the big government rice scheme that were a big problem across the country.
We had combined experiences as environmental engineer, investment banker, financial and business advisory, with passion in the health and organic products, we started to look into the problem in a deeper area and tried to find a business model that could solve this problem among Thai farmers in a sustainable and scalable manner. We spent the first 2 years understanding the farmers and found that the area that was most affected by the government public policy is the North Eastern part of Thailand and that’s where we began our project.