Poverty, Hunger, and Food Waste – How Rice Can Change the World

How can we tackle food waste, solve world hunger, make a dent in global poverty, and change the lives of millions? Sounds impossible, right?

Rice is the worlds most heavily consumed food product, and a staple item for billions of people. However, every year, millions of tonnes of rice is wasted. One organisation is on a mission to tackle rice waste, help tackle world hunger, and improve the quality of life for thousands of people across the planet.

This is the story of one of the co-founders of Paddi, Kisum.

Kisum was born in Hong Kong but grew up in Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Growing up in these nations made Kisum realise the huge disparity that exists between the developing and developed world. The types of problems the people faced in Hong Kong was completely different to those in Sri Lanka. While people in Sri Lanka were worried about having a secure job and enough to eat, people in Hong Kong were worried about the latest gadgets and fashion trends.

It was witnessing this inequality first-hand that made Kisum determined to join the social impact space. While at university in London, Kisum took part in in a number of social entrepreneurship programmes. Despite not enjoying his degree, Kisum was keen not to waste his opportunity in London. He joined a number of business case challenges, one of which was a social enterprise challenge with a $1,000,000 seed prize if you win.

The challenge that year was “How can you impact the lives of 10,000,000 people by 2025 though the power of social entrepreneurship”. That was the theme that build Paddi. It was all about tackling global problems in a sustainable manner.

Believing that every problem also presents an opportunity, and the desire to use business as a force for good, the organisation was borne with the vision of tackling a clear problem.

Over 30% of all rice grown gets wasted.

When he first encountered this problem with his team, Kisum thought that it was crazy. 30% waste even before getting to market costs the industry over $27 billion every year. The scale of this problem presented a huge opportunity.

A lot of the rice waste was due to inefficiency in the supply chain. Of the 30% that gets wasted, 30% of that (the largest share of the waste) is attributed to one step in the supply chain- after harvesting, farmers have to dry their rice. This was traditionally done by laying it out in fields or roads to dry in the sun. However, this is an incredibly wasteful process. Bad weather, not enough sun, and the prevalence of pests, there are several factors that cause huge waste.

Solutions do exist however, mostly in the form of rice dryers.  When Kisum and his team went into the field and asked the farmers why they had not already purchased the machines to dry rice, the answer was simple. They could not.

In most places, farmers receive 3-4% of the final sale price of rice. Individual farmers with low individual output sell to collectors, who sell to increasingly large collectors, all the way to huge companies that export in large volumes. Most of the money is made in the middle, between farm and fork.

Initially, they only wanted to install rice dryers in the farms providing access to the technology, and reducing crop waste.

They eventually realised that this was only a paster on a broken leg, as the issue of unfair prices for farmers still existed. That is why they introduced their own direct trade rice organisation- Paddi. The worlds leading direct trade supply chain, connecting farmers directly with consumers to increase transparency, causing better prices for farmers and consumers alike.

If we saved all the rice that is currently wasted, we could solve world hunger twice over. And that is one single commodity!

When asking if there was a particular story that gave Kisum and his team the drive to do what he does each day, he shared with us this one anecdote.

The day after they won their first round of funding, his co-founder flew over to Myanmar. After arriving around 08:30, they noticed a farmer who was waiting for them since 05:00 am.

She waited because she wanted to thank them. She told them that this year, her harvest was far too wet to be sun dried. Meaning she would not have been able to sell any of her rice that year to traders or rice mills.

It just so happens they installed a rice dryer in that village and saved her crop. It was not about the ability to sell at a higher premium for her, it was about being able to sell at all.

She was a single mum with 3 children, and that harvest was over 6 months of livelihood. Without that, who knows who she would have survived.

This is the human impact that social enterprise is able to achieve.

Thank you to Kisum from Paddi for sharing their story with us.

We believe that it is through the power of individual action that we can change the world. It is through people like U&i.




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