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Organic rice road to success after business failed

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Starting anew after business failed during 1997 crisis, this Singapore entrepreneur found success in selling Thai Jasmine rice to Singaporeans. 

Cheang Sen Kai (left), managing director of The Sukha House (Thailand), with Assoc Prof Danuwat Pengont, director of Maejo University's Institute of Product Quality and Standardization.


Going with the grain

Singaporean businessman falls in love with Thai hom mali brown rice and starts selling an organic version in his country.


Krissana Parnsoonthorn

Cheang Sen Kai, a Singaporean businessman who lost his steel business in the wake of the Asian financial crisis in 1997, ended up falling in love with the charm and taste of Thai hom mali (fragrant, or jasmine) brown rice after a visit to Chiang Mai a decade ago.

He did not eat any hom mali brown rice while he was there, but his travelling companion took some back home and cooked it for him for New Years. When he tasted his first spoonful, he thought it was so fantastic that he felt sure he could easily market the rice in Singapore.

And that was the start of The Sukha House (Thailand) Co, an organic brown rice producer and exporter.

Mr Cheang visited Chiang Mai again to survey the rice market and learned organic rice is better, as chemicals are not applied during farming and cultivation.

Moreover, demand for organic rice is very high in Singapore, as people there have become more health-conscious.

He was introduced to Assoc Prof Danuwat Pengont, the director of Maejo University's Institute of Product Quality and Standardization (IQS), who agreed to help him in terms of organic rice farming know-how.

"We're lucky to work with the IQS, which assists us in coordinating with the Lamphun Cooperative in encouraging farmers in the North to grow organic brown rice for us," said Mr Cheang.

Then Sukha House was established to cement the three-party cooperation in 2007. They started promoting organic brown rice farming and supporting farmers in eight provinces in the Upper North to produce organic hom mali brown rice.

Assoc Prof Danuwat said the alliance with Sukha House has benefited Thai farmers and is in line with Maejo's goal of promoting organic farming.

Organic brown rice farming can yield 750 to 1,350 kilogrammes a rai, similar to traditional farming but with little or no chemicals, which cost 4,000 to 5,000 baht a rai. "But rice farmers are generally still less interested in organic farming, as they cannot find anywhere to sell the rice. So they continue growing rice in the same way and opt for the government's rice-pledging scheme," he said.

Currently, the contract farming areas under Sukha House comprise 3,500 rai in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phrae, Mae Hong Son, Phayao and Uttaradit in the North along with Chaiyaphum in the Northeast for 500 farmers. Rice production is 1,600 tonnes per year.

Sukha House is set to buy organic brown rice from farmers at 22 baht per kg or 22,000 baht a tonne, which is more than the 20,000 baht per tonne guaranteed by the government under its pledging scheme.

Last year, Sukha House exported 40-50 containers with 22 tonnes each to Singapore. This year, its rice export volume will rise by 10%. The company has already entered Hong Kong, Indonesia and Brunei and is eyeing Europe for next year.

"With the rising export target, we'll expand our brown rice farming areas to 4,000 or 5,000 rai next year," said Mr Cheang.

He said his Chang organic rice brand offers red-brown, jasmine-brown, mixed brown and black-and-white glutinous rice.

The company's organic brown rice is priced 15% higher than normal rice. Sukha House plans to open an organic restaurant in Chiang Mai next year as a pilot project to promote the rice. If successful, it will be developed into a chain operation.

Farmers plant rice sprouts on a farm in Chiang Mai's Mae Rim district.

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alliance: a coalition; an arrangement to work together - พันธมิตร

assist: to help - ช่วย

benefit: to get help or an advantage from something - ผลประโยชน์

brand: a type of product made by a particular company - ตรา, ยี่ห้อ

cement: to make something stronger or more certain - ทำให้ยึดแน่น

chain: a group of businesses (restaurants, hotels, etc.) owned by the same company - บริษัทต่างๆที่อยู่ในเครือเดียวกัน

charm: a feature or quality that is pleasing or attractive - ความดึงดูดใจ,ความจับใจ

companion: a person who travels who you or spends a lot of time with you - เพื่อน, เพื่อนเดินทาง

comprise: to consist or be made up of two or more things - ประกอบด้วย

conscious: aware; noticing that something exists or is happening and realising that it is important - ความสำนึก ความตระหนักถึง

container: something used for storing or holding things - หีบบรรจุ

contract farming: when a company pays farmers to grow crops -

cooperation: working together to achieve a result that will benefit all sides - ความร่วมมือ, การทำงานร่วมกัน

cooperative: a business or farm owned and run by the people involved, with the profits shared by them - สมาคมสหกรณ์

coordinate: to organise the different parts of a job or plan so that the people involved work together effectively - ประสานงานกัน

crisis: an urgent, difficult or dangerous situation - วิกฤตการณ์

currently: at this time; now - ในปัจจุบัน

decade: a period of ten years - ทศวรรษ, ระยะเวลา 10 ปี

demand: the need and desire of people to buy goods - อุปสงค์

develop: the gradual growth and improvement of something so that it becomes more advanced, stronger and successful - พัฒนา

encourage: to cause someone to want to do something - กระตุ้น ให้การสนับสนุน

establish: to start a company or organization that will likely continue for a long time - สถาปนา, ก่อตั้ง, จัดตั้ง

expand: to make or become larger - ขยาย เพิ่ม

eye: to consider carefully; to look at someone or something carefully - พิจารณา, มองดู

fantastic: very unusual, strange or unexpected; extremely good - เยี่ยมยอด, วิเศษ

financial: involving money - เกี่ยวกับเงิน, ทางการเงิน

fragrant: having a pleasant smell - หอม, หอมหวน, หอมหวาน

glutinous rice: sticky rice - ข้าวเหนียว

guarantee: to promise someone that they will have something or will get something - รับประกัน, ค้ำประกัน

in line with: similar to or corresponding with another thing - สอดคล้องกับ

in terms of: measured by -

know-how: knowledge; knowing how to do something - ความรู้และทักษะ; ความรู้หรือวิธีการ

managing director (MD): the top manager of a company, similar to a CEO, the member of a company's board of directors who is responsible for running a company on a daily basis -

operation: a business activity - การดำเนินการทางธุรกิจ

opt: to make a choice or a decision from a range of possibilities - เลือก

organic: produced or practised without using artificial chemicals - (เกษตรกรรม)เชิงชีวภาพ

party: one of the people or groups of people involved in a situation, an official argument or arrangement - คู่กรณี

pilot project: a plan, product or system that is used to test how good something is before introducing it - โครงการ นำร่อง

producer: a person, a company or a country that grows or makes food, goods or materials - ผู้ผลิต

production: the process of growing or making food, goods or materials, especially large quantities - การผลิต

promote: to encourage or support something - สนับสนุน

quality: the standard of something when it is compared to other things like it; how good or bad something is - คุณภาพ

rice pledging scheme: a government programme in which a fixed price, in this case well above the market price, is offered to rice farmers for their harvested rice - การจำนำข้าว

spoonful: the amount of something such as food that fits in one spoon -

sprout: small parts of a plant that have just left the ground and now have branches or leaves in the open air -

sprout up: appear suddenly -

standardization: the process of making standards for some product, service or activity - การมาตรฐาน, การวางมาตรฐาน, การปรับเข้ามาตรฐาน, การทำให้ได้มาตรฐาน, การจัดมาตรฐาน

steel: A variety of iron intermediate in composition and properties between wrought iron and cast iron (containing between one half of one per cent and one and a half percent of carbon), and consisting of an alloy of iron with an iron carbide. Steel, unlike wrought iron, can be tempered, and retains magnetism. Its malleability decreases, and fusibility increases, with an increase in carbon. - เหล็ก

survey: to make an examination of something to find out about its condition - สำรวจ

target: a particular number or amount that you want to achieve - เป้าหมาย

taste: the different feelings or sensations you get from food when you eat - รส

traditional: of a custom, a way of life or a way of doing things that has not changed for a long time - เป็นประเพณี, ตามธรรมเนียม, ตามที่ปฏิบัติกันมา

version: a particular form of something which varies slightly from other forms of the same thing - ชุด, เวอร์ชั่น

volume: an amount of something - ปริมาณ

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