BizLIVE - Vietnam is the third largest exporter of rice in the world, where access to the world market shapes the livelihood security of nearly 20 million rice farmers in the country.
Promising 2020 for Vietnam Rice – Rice Production Towards Sustainability
Mr. Mohit Agarwal, Olam’s Vice President of Rice in South East Asia.
As a member of the Better Rice Initiative Asia, global agri-business Olam International is working with almost 3,000 farmers and targeting 10,000 smallholder rice farmers by 2022 in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region, to increase production in a sustainable way and secure long-term supply. We spoke to Olam’s Vice President of Rice in South East Asia, Mohit Agarwal, to learn how these farmers are benefitting from producing a more environmentally-friendly rice crop. 
Can you give us some comments about rice business in the world currently and the outlook in Vietnam for 2020?
Rice is a daily food staple for half the world’s population and is an integral part of life across Asia. In Vietnam alone, about eight out of ten people make their living by growing rice and many even say their country looks like two rice baskets carried on a pole.
In the last 25 years, global trade has increased from 20 million MT to almost 45 Million MT and this growth rate is expected to continue. Of course, this demand is good news for rice producers across Asia, and Vietnam as the world’s third largest exporter, is well positioned to supply it.
Indeed, since Olam introduced Jasmine rice from Vietnam to Africa in the early 2000s, it’s popularity has surged amongst African consumers, and is offered through our own popular household brands like Royal Aroma and Royal Feast. 
The major driver of world’s demand is expected to be driven from Africa and Asia. For Vietnam, Both Africa and Asia (80% share of total exports) plays a very important opportunity with regards to their rice exports. We at Olam take pride in being the first few companies to have initiated Vietnam fragrant rice find acceptance with African consumers, and with our global reach to consumers, we would continue to promote Vietnam Rice in most important markets across the world.
In 2020, besides Africa, Philippines and Malaysia would have a major impact on Vietnam rice exports. We believe the quality and taste preference of these countries would continue to lead further growth in export revenues for the Country and better livelihoods for Vietnamese rice farmers in 2020. 
To be the 3rd largest rice supply globally, Vietnam plays a very important role for meeting the rice demand of many countries. In 2019, Vietnam exported 6.37 Million MT We expect that Vietnam will continue to be one of the most strategic players for medium to long term.
Because Olam’s distribution network has deep roots in key rice origins - Vietnam, Thailand and India - and our operations are highly integrated, we have exceptional insight into the demand and supply requirements in each country.
But our attention has to look ahead to the security of long-term supply. There is a paradox where rice is crucial to food security yet contributes to the global climate crisis that jeopardizes food production. Indeed, rice production accounts for 10% of total man-made methane emissions. Improved rice production is key to helping agricultural communities prosper and reducing the environmental impact in Asia.
What are the market trends and how has consumer behavior evolved? 
Consumers around the world are increasingly interested in the back story of their food – where it comes from and whether it’s safe, which increases the pressure on companies to develop sustainable and traceable supply chains. 
As public awareness of the environmental impacts of rice production, namely its huge contribution to methane emissions, has grown, so have innovation efforts from all actors in the rice value chain- from production to packaging - to drive resource-use efficiency and sustainable practices. Within our own supply chains, our efforts to increase sustainable rice production have already led to learnings and innovation, as well as partnerships. 
To let Viet rice be able to reach more markets, what do you think Viet farmers should need to change?
Vietnamese rice farmers are some of the hardest working and enterprising farmers. They are able to grow almost 3 crops per year and have some of the highest yields per hectare when compared with their peers in other major growing origins 
However, the challenge is to address the overuse of pesticides and fertilisers, which not only pose a potential food safety concern, but leads to  poorer soil quality. This challenge isn’t confined to Vietnam though. For all major rice growing origins to remain a key player in feeding the world’s rice demands, traditional practices need to shift to those that maintain the economic benefits for the farmers, through yields and quality, but that reduce the crop’s environmental footprint. 
Can you briefly introduce some information about BRIA project and it’s benefits to the farmers?
Olam has been working with like-minded partners to re-imagine the sustainable rice supply chain.
In 2015, we partnered with German development agency GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH), and the Thai Rice Department on a pilot project in Thailand called the Better Rice Initiative Asia (BRIA), to train farmers on climate-smart practices under the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) Standard. The project produced the world’s first fully-verified sustainable rice.
BRIA is now in its second phase (BRIA II) and has reached 5,000 farmers in Indonesia and Vietnam. In Vietnam alone, the goal is to train 10,000 rice farmers in the Mekong Delta on SRP principles.  
The principles promote resource-use efficiency and climate change resilience, both on-farm and throughout the rice value chain. They involve simple agronomy practices including land levelling, better inputs—such as better quality seeds and tools—proper soil management and fertiliser application, and biomass removal.
Together with our partners, we provide the farmers with training and advice on implementing the agronomic practices, and guaranteed a market for the rice they produce. As extreme whether events have brought the reality of climate change closer to most of us, for farmers in the Mekong Delta, it has meant uncertain water resources and increased soil salinity.
Adoption of the SRP principles are resulting in higher farmer incomes from resource-use efficiency and a higher quality crop, as well as savings in water and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Following on from the project’s success in Thailand, we expect the farmers were working with in Vietnam to have their rice verified as sustainable under the SRP Standard later this year.