A Filipino-French couple is redesigning the rice sector in Leyte province, by cutting “pilapil” or farm ridge, chemicals, and middlemen out of the old system of farming and trading.
“You can make a lot of money in rice farming, even with one hectare, but we need to increase the size of the farm,” says Patrick François Renucci, a French businessman who was awarded Filipino citizenship by Congress in March this year for transforming rice farms in Leyte province into sustainable and profitable ventures.
One of his novel ideas was to remove “pilapil” or “tagaytay”—the narrow ridge that separates the rice plots and control the flow of water. He says that by removing these mini-dikes, the planting area will be bigger.
His idea actually worked, helping farmers in Alangalang, Leyte province achieve more yield from one hectare than they did before. Along with other forms of assistance, rice farmers who were enrolled in the Renucci partnership program saw their harvest increase two to three times and their income climb by more than 10 times.
Patrick and his wife Rachel Marjorie Tan show how Filipino rice farmers can make money despite the influx of imported rice from Thailand and Vietnam under the Rice Tariffication regime. They are the incorporators of Chen Yi Agventures—a fully-integrated and sustainable rice business that helped Leyte farmers recover after the onslaught of typhoon Yolanda in November 2013.
Chen Yi Agventures is the company behind “Dalisay”—the premium, chemical-free, unmixed, clean and aromatic rice brand sold in major supermarkets in Metro Manila such as SM, Robinsons, Rustan’s, Shopwise and Puregold. It is also used by more than 50 restaurants, including Flame Restaurant at Discovery Primea in Makati City.
Chef Luis Chikiamco of Flame Restaurant compares Dalisay to Japanese rice. “The taste is very clean, and the smell is so fragrant. It is very appetizing,” he says.
In fact, Dalisay Rice was awarded third place in the World Best Rice Competition during the World Rice Conference in November 2019.
The couple, who lived in Paris before deciding to migrate to Leyte in 2015, invested P1.7 billion in Chen Yi Agventures which developed the most technologically advanced rice processing center in Southeast Asia that integrates seed procurement, planting, farm management, harvesting and rice processing.
“When we arrived in Leyte, after typhoon Yolanda, we decided to dedicate our life to trying to uplift the farmers from the devastation of Yolanda. Given the situation of the rice industry, we would like to produce world-class rice for the Filipino people,” says Rachel.
“While our facilities were under construction, we organized 3,000 to 4,000 farmers and provided them with loans. We mechanized land preparations, planting and harvesting. By taking them to land prep, planting and harvesting and mechanizing the whole process, we learned about rice farming because we were in the field working with the farmers for four years,” she says.
From 2015 to 2019, the couple witnessed the shortfall in planting practices and learned new ways to improve the system. “We mastered the whole value chain, from planting with the farmers, increasing their income to processing in a very high-tech facility which is the most advanced in Southeast Asia to distribution and sales to the supermarket. So we really controlled the entire value chain and that’s what enabled us to produce world-class rice,” says Rachel.
Today, about 700 Leyte farmers supply rice to Chen Yi Agventures which sells it under “Dalisay” brand in Metro Manila.
The company’s rice processing center in Barangay Mudburon, Alingalang town is centralized and fully-automated to control room temperature at 21 degrees, keeping palay freshly harvested for more than a year. It can process up to 50,000 metric tons of rice annually.
It employs Japanese technology that purifies air emitted into the dust room, purging dust and dirt from the drying and milling process.
Chen Yi Agventures also introduced the Renucci partnership program, which organizes farmers and provides them with low-interest loans in the forms of fertilizers from Norway, high-quality inbred seeds and high-tech planting and harvesting equipment.
Patrick says what makes Dalisay different is its natural purity, as it is not mixed or repacked with imported rice and is not sprayed with chemicals. Farmers use RC 300—a local rice variety known for its aromatic properties.
Under the program, they buy rice directly from the enrolled farmers, thereby removing the middlemen and traders. “There were so many layers in between—the middlemen and the traders. That’s why we decided to set up our program,” he says.
He says at present, Chen Yi Agventures produces rice to meet the demand of supermarkets in Metro Manila but plans to export the grain soon.
Patrick says he believes they are on the right track to improving the rice sector in the Philippines.
“We see that we can help change. Because now we understand…We invite other millers to try to replicate our model, to do outstanding rice for the Filipinos, no chemicals and help the farmers increase their income. There is a huge impact to the economy of the Philippines. We want the money to stay in the Philippines, so the benefit will go to the farmers if we buy their rice,” he says.