The rise of rice

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The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2019 has concluded its search for the country’s most successful and inspiring entrepreneurs. Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines is a program of the SGV Foundation, Inc. with the participation of co-presenters Department of Trade and Industry, the Philippine Business for Social Progress, and the Philippine Stock Exchange. In the next few weeks, BusinessWorld will feature each of the finalists for the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2019.

Henry Lim Bon Liong
Chairman and CEO
SL Agritech Corp.

HENRY LIM BON LIONG believes that one seed has the power to uplift the nation. He claims that it only took one seed for him to disrupt the agriculture industry in the Philippines and, in the process, transform the lives of millions of Filipinos.

With a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of the Philippines-Diliman, Mr. Lim set his sights on agriculture.

His vision was to transform the Philippines into a self-sufficient rice producing country.

Mr. Lim established SL Agritech Corp. (SLAC), with the aim of empowering farmers by bridging the gap in food production and farming technology.

Mr. Lim founded SLAC in 2000 and has served as chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) ever since. However, his entrepreneurial journey began in 1976, when he took over as chairman of Sterling Paper Products after the death of his father, Lim Seh Leng.

At present, SLAC is part of the Sterling Paper Group of Companies.

Driven by his dream, Mr. Lim invested in property and infrastructure for SLAC’s research and development (R&D) efforts. His research led him to collaborate with the world’s top rice scientists at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Eventually, he sought the help of the man dubbed as the “father of hybrid rice”, Chinese agronomist, Yuan Longping.

Mr.. Longping devoted his career to developing high-yielding rice strains that helped solve the famine in China during the 1960s. He successfully developed hybrid rice varieties in the 1970s by crossbreeding a naturally-mutated male-sterile strain of rice with wild rice.

Mr. Lim invited Mr. Longping and three of his scientists to the Philippines in 1998, who brought with them 75 different hybrid rice seed varieties.

Unfortunately, none of the seeds survived the tropical climate as the hybrids Mr. Longping had developed were more suited to temperate climates.

Despite these setbacks, Mr. Lim’s mother, Maria Co Chiao Ti Lim, told him not to give up his search for a hybrid rice seed that was suitable for wet and dry seasons, even as the company’s funding became dangerously low after several years of investing wholly in R&D.

Her faith in his dream bore remarkable fruit, when in January 2001, Mr. Lim and Mr. Longping’s team were able to discover the first high-yielding, hybrid rice seed variety for the tropics. Mr. Lim attributes this discovery to his mother, who had passed away just two months prior.

Mr. Lim named his hybrid seed discovery, SL-8H, as a tribute to his late father’s initials and plot number 8, where the seed first germinated.

SLAC subsequently distributed the seeds to farmers across the Philippines for three harvest seasons. According to Mr. Lim, farmers reported a dramatic increase in their yield when they planted SL-8H seeds, as their harvest increased form 3 metric tons, to 14 metric tons.

Currently, SLAC is the market leader for hybrid rice in the Philippines, with 70% of the total market share. The company is focused on the development, promotion and growth of hybrid rice technology through its two major operations: hybrid seed production and premium quality rice production.

The commercialized hybrid rice seeds are sold to Filipino farmers and exported to Vietnam, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Indonesia and India. Farmers from Bangladesh and Myanmar similarly experienced a drastic yield increase due to SLAC’s hybrid seeds.

In Bangladesh, they jumped from 2.2 metric tons per hectare, to harvesting 9.5 metric tons per hectare. In Myanmar, farmers were able to yield 10 metric tons of seed per hectare.

Dr. Lim developed two brands for their rice products: Doña Maria premium rice and an affordable line, Willy Farms rice. To strengthen production capacity, SLAC engaged contract growers all over the country who exclusively produce rice for the two brands.

Today, the company has also expanded its network of contract growers to Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Mr. Lim further diversified his products with two additional variants of rice for the company’s Doña Maria premium line: Jasponica, a chewy, fragrant hybrid of Jasmine and Japanese rice; and Miponica, a soft, glutinous, long-grain hybrid of Milagrosa and Japanese rice. Both variants offer brown rice alternatives.

The company sells its premium rice to retailers, restaurants, hotels and catering services. It is also exported to countries across Asia, the Middle East, and North America.

Through Mr. Lim’s leadership, SLAC has attained international certifications from ISO (9001:2008), the Halal Authority Board Standard, and the United States Food and Drug Administration.

The company has also achieved other accolades including: the ASEAN AGROW Awards, the ASEAN Business Awards, the Agriculture Entrepreneurship Awards, the BizNewsAsia Asia-Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards, and the Agriculture Industry Asia-Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards.

On Aug. 6, Mr. Lim was conferred the Order of Lakandula by President Rodrigo R. Duterte, with the rank of Marangal na Pinuno or Grand Officer, for his lifelong commitment and outstanding contributions to the improvement of the country’s economic and civic welfare.

He was awarded with honorary doctorate degrees in Humanities and Science by the Foundation University-Dumaguete in 2013, and by the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in 2014.

Aside from being the country’s leading hybrid rice authority, Mr. Lim is also a philanthropist. He is dedicated to elevating communities through innovative programs that have helped countless beneficiaries in the country and across the region. Among these projects are the Rice Bucket Challenge and the Balik Biyaya program that were able to provide rice to over 50,000 families.

Mr. Lim is also swift to respond during times of national emergencies, by donating sacks of rice to calamity-stricken areas. During the Marawi City siege, he sent containers of Doña Maria Premium rice to the barracks after learning that soldiers were eating old supplies of rice.

In addition to his social work, Mr. Lim is equally passionate about education. He has built school buildings, donated school supplies and conducted feeding programs to help students in rural areas. He and his technicians are determined to educate farmers in advanced farming methods.

Farmers from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam, and other countries that use SLAC’s hybrid seeds, are trained by SLAC’s rice experts in modern farming techniques that will help them increase their yield and speed up production.

To other Filipino entrepreneurs, Dr. Lim shares, “Entrepreneurship takes guts. You will feel a lot of hardships, but you really have to weather them.”

The official airline of the Entrepreneur of the Year Philippines 2019 is Philippine Airlines. Media sponsors are BusinessWorld and the ABS-CBN News Channel. Banquet sponsors are Global Ferronickel Holdings, Inc., Jollibee, Robert Blancaflor & Groups, Inc., Udenna Corporation, and Uratex.

The winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2019 will be announced on Oct. 15 in an awards banquet at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel. The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines will represent the country in the World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2020 in Monte Carlo, Monaco in June 2020.

The Entrepreneur Of The Year program is produced globally by Ernst & Young.