It may not make much sense to grow rice to sell especially to rice farmers. But a group of farmers in Suphan Buri province is doing just that.
The rice is packaged under the "Khao Kwan Suphan" brand, which was recently introduced by the Suphan Buri Industrial Federation, the Suphan Buri Rice Mill Federation and the Khao Kwan Foundation in the central province. The organic rice is grown by a group of farmers for the local market in Suphan Buri.
"It's the local variety popular among Suphan Buri farmers," said Daycha Siripatra, founder of the Kwan Khao Foundation, referring to khao ta klueb rice. Packaged Hom Mali rice is either too soft or too tough for the farmers. Khao ta klueb has a unique soft texture and is equally aromatic and hearty enough for calorie-burning people like farmers.
Despite its popularity, not all farmers grow khao ta klueb on their own land. Most grow double-crop Hom Mali rice which they don't eat. They sell it to the rice mills for a higher price and buy local varieties from the in-season plantation for their own families because these taste better. The double-crop rice is only grown for a higher yield and the flavour is too bland for local taste.
"Our farmers end up growing rice for others and buying rice for their families," said Daycha.
Suphan Buri is one of the Central region's top 10 rice-producing provinces, with an expected yield of 1.8 million tonnes out of 10 million tonnes from the region this year. Daycha found it unreasonable for Suphan Buri people to buy rice that had been grown, purchased and then exported elsewhere for packaging by the national companies and then re-imported to the province through international supermarkets. While the affordable brands are often non-organic, organic rice is too expensive for daily consumption for most families.
Started two years ago, the selection process began with 180 varieties grown on demonstration plots. Two groups of farmers chose 30 varieties from the plot, based on quality, strength and productivity. The 30 varieties were then grown chemical-free in a new plot, without the use of herbicides, to find the 10 strongest breeds. The last step was the tasting attended by farmers, millers and consumers.
Two varieties, khao ta klueb and jek choey bao, were chosen. Both boast a uniquely soft texture _ different from the sticky softness of Hom Mali _ that farmers in the region are familiar with. Most importantly, resistance to disease and pests are qualities most valued by all farmers.
The current stock, featuring only khao ta klueb, resulted from last year's crop grown by 14 farmers on about 100 rai. The first crop yielded 80 tonnes, a little lower than expected because some were grown with chemicals and didn't pass the test.
Under the project, there's an agreement among millers, farmers and the Khao Kwan Foundation.
Local organic rice for local farmers, Khao Kwan Suphan.
The participating farmers buy seeds from the foundation and grow rice on their own land, without chemicals, during the 120-day planting period. Each plot will be quality checked by Khao Kwan Foundation staff on a random basis to ensure a chemical-free growing process. All organic rice will be bought at a higher market price and milled separately by millers in the province.
The current market price is 14,800 baht per tonne, deducting the humidity percentage from the weight. Farmers earn 15,800 baht for a tonne of chemical-free khao ta klueb sold to the millers.
This is how to keep the province's rice industry strong, allow the millers survive and help the farmers earn extra money, said Daycha.
There are about 8 million rice consumers, including farmers, in Suphan Buri, which is large enough to sustain the business for domestic production and consumption.
The farmers and rice mills in the province are only employees of the national-level business. The former grow rice and the latter mill the grains, ready for packaging. Tonnes of rice are exported out of the province only to be packaged and branded, and then imported back, ending up on the shelves of local supermarkets. Suphan Buri people are paying for the unnecessary cost of the production process.
The project also frees the farmers from the fluctuated rice prices determined by the international market. This way, the farmers and millers settle a compromised price for them, and affordable enough for the local market, in order to compete with the national-level rice brands.
Local production and consumption will either allow consumers to buy cheaper rice from their fellow farmers at local stores. Or if they pay the same price, more money will go directly to the rice farmers and millers, rather than the big companies.
Branding its own rice and creating a story for it is also another marketing strategy, adding more value to the local variety, apart from its quality.
"People these days consume the story [behind a product]," said Daycha. "When a product is branded, it's likely to be looked up to."
He recalled the success of sangyod rice, a local pure variety widely grown in Phattalung for over a century. The local variety never made it to the national-level market until it became geographically-certified rice; then the price doubled to 200 baht per kilogramme.
Arkom Wongsamut, a consumer from Suphan Buri, is proud of the product that represents his hometown. The packaged rice under the Khao Kwan Suphan label is not only bought for his family but also as a gift for others.
"The rice is grown in the province. It represents Suphan Buri really well," he said.
The next crop will need around 400 rai. About 30 farmers have registered to grow the next crop, starting between late December and early February. The Khao Kwan Foundation plans to add more varieties to the project.
Khao Kwan Suphan brand can be found at the foundation, Ekachai and Xongdur stores in Suphan Buri.
About the author
- Writer: Sirinya Wattanasukchai