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Tembusu Talks: An Interview With David (Golden Sunland Singapore)

1. Hello, can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

My name is David Chen C.Y. I am co-founder of Golden Sunland Singapore, Singapore's first rice producer. The company also owns the brand 'The Little Rice Company'. We work directly with rice farmers in Myanmar to produce sustainable rice for the mass.

2. What sparked your interest in the agricultural field?

My father had been in the sector for the last 30 years, his first venture was in Vietnam, growing watermelon. When I was 7, I stayed there for a couple of months. It was a cultural awakening for me, primarily due to the difference in lifestyle. Since then, I have paid more attention to the food I consume, and also to the farmers who produce them.

3. How did you come to the decision to work specifically with rice?

Rice is perhaps one of the most impactful crops from multiple dimensions. It feeds more than half of the global population, deeply ingrained in our heritage, yet at the same time keeps its producers poor and emits significant amounts of methane to the atmosphere.

4. Based on your first-hand experience, how has climate change affected the yield of livelihoods of smallholder rice farmers?

Weather patterns are certainly less predictable than before, thus the production risks increase exponentially. Sometimes, 6 months worth of work may amount to nothing at the end of the day.

A raw, unfiltered scene of smallholder rice farmers working hard to produce rice

5. How much more effective are the hybrid seeds you have manufactured? What makes them more effective?

From a scientific point of view, the hybrid seeds we have developed are more productive as they are more resilient and also more efficient at nutrient conversion. This would lead to an increase in per-unit production (less land and water required to produce more food). However, implementation on the ground is not always straightforward. The cost is higher than conventional seeds, thus while it has a greater yield potential, the cost is an entry barrier for some farmers to fully reap the benefits. This is why we have to think out of the box in order to bring technology like ours to the farmers.

The hybrid rice seeds

6. Are there any other benefits that your rice grains provide?

The first variety we released has certain health benefits (low GI) that is relevant to the consumers. As a functional food, we expect the price to be more stable, thus allowing us to provide the farmers with some form of price stability amidst the obvious agricultural risks. While improving livelihood is a key objective, the sense of stability provides a peace of mind that cannot be quantified in monetary terms.

7. We notice you have a Rice Seed Kit on your website, can rice be easily grown in our own homes? Why should we grow rice at home/in Singapore?

We were thinking of ways to get the consumers to empathize with the farmers, and hopefully, via this route, consumers understand the difficulty in production and learn to cherish the humble grain more (less wastage). This is not a situation where we are saying "let's grow our own rice!", in fact, it would never make economical sense to grow our own rice in Singapore. The rice seed kit is meant to be an experiential experience, whether you are successful at growing the grain or not, both are pathways to learning.

Rice Seed Kits that you can purchase here to plant your own rice at home

8. What has been the most fulfilling experience on your journey helming The Little Rice Company?

Perhaps a heartwarming encounter. A couple of weeks ago, I was at the hawker centre buying a bowl of fishball noodles. The stall owner saw my t-shirt (with the company mission statement - growing rice, growing lives) and she told her kids had finished all their food after attending our workshop. This 'workshop' started off as casual sharing, but it has not transformed into a proper system where we guide the audience into the origins of rice.

9. Any future plans you would like to share with our readers?

Because of where our key operation is right now (Myanmar), we face a lot of difficulties to ensure business as usual. The pandemic has prohibited my return to Myanmar for the last 1 year and the recent political events further prolonged the return. It requires us to work more creatively because, on the ground, the farmers do not stop. They are the backbone of the nation, be it during peace or chaos, people eat, and rice remains the key staple.

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