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Lotus Foods: Cultivating Markets for Sustainably Produced Rice

Published 05-01-15

Submitted by Business Call to Action (BCtA)

Lotus Foods, a global innovator in the production and marketing of specialty rice, joined the Business Call to Action (BCtA) with a commitment to increase the incomes of at least 3,000 additional farm households by 2017.

As part of this effort, the company is paving the way to market for smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia who adopt the ecological and climate-smart method of rice cultivation known as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). In the process of helping farmers who are growing rice more sustainably to make livable incomes, the company is bringing healthier rice choices to consumers.

BCtA is a global initiative that aims to support private sector efforts to fight poverty through its core business; it is supported by several international organizations and hosted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Established in 1995, Lotus Foods has become dominant in linking marginalized farmers to major markets, having pioneered the introduction of heirloom black and red rice into the United States. The SRI production method, which is being applied by more than 10 million farmers in over 50 countries, has allowed Lotus to assist farmers who are generating surpluses by doubling their rice yields with less water, land, chemicals and greenhouse gas emissions.

Introduction of this growing method to its farmer-producers led Lotus to surpass its early goals and increase the amount of SRI-produced rice it purchases from organic-certified farmers in Cambodia, Indonesia and Madagascar. While initially the rice was sold only in bulk, in 2010 the company launched its unique heirloom rice varieties in retail packaging with a unique symbol and the tagline “More Crop Per Drop™”. With its aggressive outreach and a social media consumer-education campaign, Lotus rices are now available in food retailers across the United States, including Whole Foods and Costco.

Suba Sivakumaran, BCtA Programme Manager has stated that, “Fair trade, organic and healthy products are among the food industry’s fastest growing trends – we are pleased that Lotus Foods has seized the opportunity to improve farmers’ productivity, enhance developing economies and protect the environment”.

Lotus has been an important catalyst for farmers to obtain organic and fair trade certifications, in addition to producing according to SRI methods, in order to earn higher export premiums. Over 3,000 farming families are now benefitting from the organic and fair trade premiums paid by the company for consumer-friendly products, increasing rice farmers’ incomes by 20 to 40 percent.

In partnership with Whole Foods, Lotus is continuing to innovate new product lines including rice crackers, ramen and other rice-based products. The company’s Heat & Eat Rice Bowls are fully cooked, shelf-stable products that contain heirloom, organic and fair trade rice grown with the SRI method and are ready to eat in 90 seconds.

 Lotus Foods’ products now can be found in over 6,000 stores from small independent grocers to the countries largest supermarket chains, and are served by chefs in thousands of restaurants and food service venues across the US.  According to Caryl Levine, Lotus Foods Co-founder and Co-owner, “What’s more, we have established a special relationship with Whole Foods, which also has a strong commitment to agro-ecological values. With our partners all along the value chain, we are taking advantage of exciting new consumer trends to increase farmers’ incomes while conserving biodiversity and protecting valuable natural resources”.

Demonstrating the scalability of small-scale farmers-driven food production, Lotus Foods plans to further expand SRI rice cultivation for its brand into countries such as India, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

In the next two years, the company aims to double the number of producer farmers from 3,000 to 6,000, and double the quantity of rice imported from SRI farmers. By opening new value chains, Lotus will not only increase farmers’ incomes and conserve natural resources – it will introduce healthier rice choices to countless more consumers. 

 Lotus Foods:

Established in 1995, Lotus Foods is a leader in specialty rice sales and marketing, having pioneered the introduction of Chinese black rice trademarked Forbidden Rice® into the US market. The company’s vision is to help rice farmers, who are preserving rice biodiversity and growing rice more sustainably, make livable incomes while bringing healthier rice choices to consumers. In 2008, Lotus Foods committed to open markets for smallholder farmers who adopted an ecological and climate-smart method of rice cultivation known as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). SRI enables farmers to increase their yields with less seed, water, land, agrochemicals and greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2009, when Lotus Foods imported one container (20 mt) apiece of rice from Cambodia, Indonesia and Madagascar, the company’s exports from those countries have increased this year to 4 containers from Indonesia, 10 from Madagascar, and 20 containers from Cambodia. For more information, please visit or join the conversation on Twitter at @LotusFoods.

Business Call to Action (BCtA):

Business Call to Action is a global initiative that challenges companies to develop inclusive business models that offer the potential for development impact along with commercial success. The initiative is the result of a partnership between the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), UK Department for International Development (DFID), US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of Finland to meet the sustainable development goals. Companies report on progress toward commitments on an annual basis. For more information, please visit or join the conversation on Twitter at @BCtAInitiative.


Business Call to Action (BCtA) logo

Business Call to Action (BCtA)

Business Call to Action (BCtA)

Launched in 2008, the Business Call to Action (BCtA) aims to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), by challenging companies to develop inclusive business models that offer the potential for both commercial success and development impact. Worldwide, over 60 companies have responded to the BCtA by making commitments to improve the lives and livelihoods of millions through commercially-viable business ventures that engage low-income people as consumers, producers, suppliers, and distributors of goods and services.

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