Background - Lotus Foods is at the epicenter of important global issues related to water scarcity, climate change, biodiversity erosion and feminization of agriculture. In low-income countries, agriculture is a critical stimulus for growth and income generation. It employs more people than any other sector—especially women. It is essential for food security and represents a major source of foreign exchange. This means that eradicating poverty and promoting social and economic justice has to start with agriculture and it has to be accomplished in a way that protects and restores natural resources. At the crux of this challenge is rice, which is the staple of half the world’s population and provides a source of living to two billion people, most earning less than $200 a year. Yet rice is a major competitor for increasingly scarce freshwater resources and emits methane gas, warming the atmosphere. It also requires the labor of hundreds of millions of women, whose productive energies are sapped by repetitive tasks performed in very unsanitary conditions of standing water.
Providing market incentives for smallholder farmers who are conserving biodiversity and growing their rice in environmentally sustainable and women-friendly ways is a powerful strategy to promote local food security and effect positive change. We are proud that we can offer consumers a delicious way to enjoy some of the world’s finest rices while contributing to a more just rural economy, conservation of water and of rice biodiversity, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and a lightening of women’s work load.
Impact on Producers
- 5000 farm households achieve a higher income, benefitting approximately 15,000 family members
Lotus Foods purchases rice from an estimated 5000 farmers in Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Madagascar and Thailand. All receive a higher price than if they sold their rice in local markets or to traders. Farmers receiving organic and fair trade premiums can substantially improve their standard of living, investing in home and farm improvements, education, mobile phones, better diets and medical care. The Fair Trade social development fund is used for projects that benefit entire communities, such as wells, computer training centers, literacy classes, and community infrastructure.
Many of the farmers from whom we source our rice are using System of Rice Intensification or More Crop Per Drop™ methods, achieving higher yields with dramatically less water, seed and drudgery for women. Since farmers can produce more rice from less land, they can diversify some of their land for fruits, vegetables, poultry or fish rearing. This allows them to generate two to three times more income than what they get from rice. In Cambodia, conventional farmers earn a net income of $140/year from rice farming. SRI farmers can earn a net income of $450/year. Organic rice farmers selling to Lotus Foods and receiving organic and fair trade premiums make a profit of $725/year. Now we are seeing SRI farmers organizing themselves to build and operate community rice mills. These will enable them to boost their incomes another 30% and more because they can process the rice themselves locally and keep the valuable by-products like the husks and bran. Husks can fuel biogasifiers for renewable energy and bran is important for feed.
Our farmer producers in West Java have increased their income by nearly triple. At the official government price, a small-scale farmer can only secure $190 per season (4 months). Using SRI methods, our farmers are able to increase their harvest by an average of 78%, and with certification premiums, they earn $512.
Impact on Women
- 80-90% fewer seedlings to plant and no standing water
One of the outstanding differences between More Crop Per Drop™ and conventional rice production is that women do not have to work in standing water, where they are exposed to an array of harmful disease-causing parasites, like leeches and snails that carry schistisomiasis. In addition, they handle just one-tenth the number of seeds and these are manipulated when they are smaller and lighter. This means much less time is required for planting, transporting and transplanting and the weight they have to handle is drastically reduced. You can learn more about the impact on women at our Do The Rice Thing webpages.
Impact on Water
- About 500 million gallons less water used on rice fields
With More Crop Per Drop™ practices, farmers can reduce the amount of water used to irrigate rice by up to 50% and sometimes even more where there is good water control, like in the case of our Volcano Rice. We estimate that in 2015 our purchase of rice grown by farmers using these methods resulted in about 500 million gallons less water used on rice fields, and instead made available to recharge wells, aquifers, fill ponds and water ways, and sustain other crops and natural habitats. That’s the equivalent to some 800 Olympic-sized swimming pools!
Impact on Climate Change
- 40-65% reduction in methane gas from rice paddies
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. The comparative impact of methane on climate change is 25 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. Flooded rice fields are significant sources of man-made methane. Solutions to suppress methane emissions are urgently needed. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) or MCPD is one such solution. Soils that are not flooded and that have access to oxygen emit less methane. Although we have not measured methane reduction specifically on our farmers’ fields, research shows that SRI practices reduce methane gas emissions up to 65%, and total global warming potential (GWP) from flooded rice paddies even up to 73%. A recent report published under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found that “If all rice farmers in rainfed lowland systems in Cambodia were to change to SRI, they would increase the producer-price value of rice by US$801 million. At the same time the society would incur lower GHG emissions costs (US$258 million)." (Page 76.)
Impact on Rice Biodiversity
- Preserving healthier heirloom and pigmented rice
Erosion of genetic diversity in rice is problematic given its value as the world’s most important food source. Some 80,000 different varieties of rice are stored in a genebank at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Yet throughout Asia, most rice is grown in genetic monocultures, with dependence on just a handful of rice varieties. Ensuring genetic diversity requires that local rices are cultivated continuously, and not simply locked up in seed banks until plant breeders want to find a specific trait.
Traditional varieties (also called landraces) and heirlooms are locally evolved varieties subjected to continuous selection by farmers. They have adapted over time to a vast range of microclimates and to resist pests and predators of their region. Genetic diversity is known to substantially decrease a crop’s vulnerability to diseases, and enable farmers to adapt to climate change.
Heirlooms acquire histories when the seeds are saved for many generations and become valuable for their stories and the wisdom they contain about their cooking and growing qualities, ceremonial purposes, and healing properties. Educating consumers about heirloom rices, such as Forbidden Rice®, Madagascar Red Rice and Dehraduni Basmati, and offering farmers a fair price is the best way to keep these rices evolving in situ, and to keep alive community traditions while offering consumers more nutritious rice options.