SunRice, a team based out of UK and Malaysia, took home the $2,500 USD Borlaug Prize, which is awarded to a team that carries out the legacy of the late Norman Borlaug legacy by helping farmers in developing countries access important technologies. This team has created a unique, community-owned grain drying and processing service for rural villages. Their service allows smallholder farmers to dry more rice in a more efficient manner, increasing their annual yields and income. The team is currently implementing their first trial in Northern Myanmar and has a partnership with the International Rice Research Institute.

Learn more about SunRice, one of 2018 TFF Challenge Finalists, and their plans for the future in this Q&A with Klára Höllegeová, led by Thought For Food Program Manager Monika Jiang. Enjoy reading, and get in touch if you have any questions.

What inspired you to start SunRice in the first place?

Our team consists of seven members and we all met at through university, where we became friends. Originally from Malaysia, Laos, Hong Kong and the Czech Republic, we bring together cultural diversity, and different expertise in Biomedicine, Law, Science, Economics, and Psychology. What has started with a discussion about food waste, consumption, and cracking numbers around rice harvest loss, turned into an idea, and now into SunRice.

What unites us until this point is that we are all striving towards having a positive impact to solve the problem of Southeast Asian small rice farmers having very low income, caused by post-harvest loss and the poor quality of rice.

Initially, we connected back to the people in some of our team members’ home countries, and eventually doing field tests there, to learn how we might find the best solution.

Looking at your journey with Thought For Food the past months, what are the key learnings and benefits you’ve achieved?

First of all, we grew a lot as a team during the past months. Considering our different cultural backgrounds, and also facing the challenge of working between different time zones and regions, we learned about the importance of collaborating, decision-making within a team, and also pushing us forward and keeping the motivation up.

Also, we were able to develop our business model further, and gained great support through mentorship by Jared (Yarnall-Schane), Holley (Murchison) and David (Treyford). The Startup Bootcamp and especially the last week in Rio de Janeiro enabled us to improve our pitching and presenting skills.

Apart from that, we made connections to the other Finalist teams, and had the opportunity to network, share opportunities and experiences.

Congratulations again for winning the Take it To the Farmer Prize! Can you tell us #whatsnext for SunRice?

We’re right in the middle of building and implementing our rice dryer in Myanmar, and are focusing mainly on putting everything into place for a successful start. Also, we’re planning on buying another dryer to build up in the next two or three months.

On a long term basis, we’re looking to expand to the Indonesian market, because we see a similar need and opportunity for smallholder farmers there, too.

You’ve met a part of the TFF Global Community of next-generation innovators. What would you say is the role of your generation as innovators of the current food system? What is different about the Millennial mindset and approach of changemaking?  

Sometimes, people call us dreamers. And I do believe that is something we should hold on to. Having a mindset and approach of considering that things are possible, and turning ideas into opportunities. That’s why it’s important for our generation to step up to grand challenges like food security, and make a contribution, while believing that we can make a difference.

What was your experience like as a TFF Finalist and how did that experience shape where SunRice is today?

We really enjoyed meeting the other Finalist Teams, their innovative ideas and learning about so many different solutions. To us, this was very inspiring, and helped us to hold on to this positive approach and mindset, that we do actually have a chance of feeding 9+ billion people by 2050.

Before TFF, we focused a lot on the problem only, and during the participation, we are thinking much more the other way around, in the sense of: What solutions might work, and contribute in what way?

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