rice ends up just being sold in the
same supply pool as any other rice,”
says Olivia Vent, who initiated CIIFAD’s marketing activities. In global
markets, on the other hand, consumers would pay more for this high-quality rice—in fact, according to
market data, sales of speciality rice in
U.S. has doubled since 1994. These
small farmers, however, were in no position to market SRI rice themselves, so
it made more sense to find a business
to help them bring this product to an
international market. So Vent
searched supermarket shelves for companies who had the market expertise
and business philosophy needed to
create opportunities for SRI farmers
and she found Lotus Foods, a U.S.
based company that specializes in heirloom rice grown by small farmers.
“Their values were in line with ours.
They were promoting biodiversity, paying farmers well and protecting the
environment, so I gave them a call,”
The Bridge—Lotus Foods. Lotus
Foods was started after the owners,
Ken Lee and Caryl Levine, completed
a market research trip throughout
China in 1993. In a Dai minority village in southwest China, they discovered a black heirloom rice called
“longevity” or “tribute” rice. Appreciating the nutrients in this rice, as well as
the benefit that market opportunities
abroad could give farmers, they started
importing it to the United States in
1995. They continued to build their
company around working with small
farmers who grew traditional varieties,
many of which had been pushed toward extinction due to the promotion
of “improved” cultivars and hybrids.
Today Lotus sells eight different kinds
of organic and heirloom rice.
Recently, its black variety, “Forbid-
den Rice,” was featured by Dr. Oz on
the Good Morning America as part of his
New Year’s Resolutions for 2011. He
suggested it as a food that Americans
should eat more of because of its antioxidant value. A recent study by Louisiana
State University shows that black rice is a natural source of anthocyanins, the
same antioxidants that are found in blueberries and acai.