Interview with David from Golden Sunland

Golden Sunland is a company that is built on the principles of harmony between businesses and individuals to ensure profitability and progress within the rice industry. David Chen, the COO of the company, entered the hybrid rice industry with Golden Sunland in 2008. His passion for meaningful partnerships and his entrepreneurial abilities have helped achieve the company goal and vision of “Growing Rice, Growing Lives”, where balance and growth of the rice industry and rice farmers are in harmony.

Here we meet David for several questions on his passion and his love for rice.

Q: In your opinion, what role can Singapore play in the global agriculture or agritech industry?

A: At first glance, it is easy to look at Singapore as an agritech incubation hub, but we have the potential to be much more. Singapore is the nexus of technological innovation and financial markets. We are in the best position to provide an inclusive solution for the global agriculture sector despite our urban environment. We are equipped to reshape smallholder farming, a struggling sector that produces majority of our food, yet is frail against the unstoppable force that is climate change. All it takes for us to make a change is a mindset shift.

Q: What inspired you to join the hybrid rice industry?

A: I could not understand why the technology of hybrid rice scientifically works, but still has such a checkered past. Soon it became clear to me that the traditional business model was the limiting factor. I was lucky to find people who were equally passionate about bringing technology to ground and bringing about real impact. We did not join the hybrid rice industry per se, we are here to innovate how business is done in this sector.

Q: What do you think are the present and future challenges in the rice industry?

A: In the rice industry, culture, environment, politics and many other factors are intertwined.  The status quo is unsustainable. Rice, which is the staple for more than half of the global population, is being produced by people from the bottom of the pyramid. When the supply is vulnerable and threatened, our future is bleak. It is unrealistic to assume we are going to switch staples in a big way, therefore rice will remain both contributor and victim of climate change. The future of rice starts with quantification of environmental and social impact, followed by series of mitigation or adaptation.

Q: What 3 points about rural rice farmers would you wish the world would know about?

A: 1) A rice field about the size of a soccer field feeds about 40 Singaporeans for a year (assuming that there is 40kg per person consumption per year and a yield of 3,000 kg of rice per hectare).

2) It takes about 5 months from preparation to sowing to harvest and selling the produce in the market. Now imagine working for 5 months without wage. Next, imagine how devastating it would be if crops are destroyed in the 4th month.

3) They are hardworking, passionate people who deserve our gratitude. It does not take much, we can all start by not wasting rice.

Q: Golden Sunland’s vision is “Growing Rice, Growing Lives”. In your opinion, how does rice connect the lives of farmers and consumers?

A: 粒粒皆幸苦, every grain is hard work. If consumers take a moment to appreciate the 150 days of hard work and emotional stress farmers go through to produce that mouthful of rice, we hope it will trigger enough empathy and appreciation to stop them from throwing away what is left on their plates. Food security is not just a matter of increasing production, but also about waste reduction.

Q: In 50 words, can you describe the science behind Golden Sunland’s rice?

A: The three-line hybrid system creates F1 that have stronger traits than its parents, mostly in the department of productivity. These parents are distant relatives unlike traditional self-pollinating inbreeds. The hybridisation process happens in the field and this is a non-GMO approach.

Q: What are your top 3 favourite rice dishes and why?

A: 1) Plain Brown Rice – Not just any brown rice, but freshly harvested unpolished rice from our partner-farmers’ fields. It has a unique barley fragrance and it is my own blood and sweat.

2) Briyani – Globamatsoul Kitchen serves one of the best Briyani I have eaten. I have high regards for the chef simply because he refused to use our brown rice to cook his briyani, insisting on using only basmati rice. Basmati rice can soak up the essence of the spices and meat. It is truly a guilty pleasure.

3) Minced Pork Rice (Taiwanese style) – I was born in Taiwan, 肉燥饭 is literally a national dish. In my opinion, the minced pork is important, but not as important as using the right rice. The rice should be fluffy and sticky enough to hold the gravy but not mashed together to the point where you can’t feel the shape of the grains in your mouth. The subtle fragrance from the rice balances the rich pork broth, making it a simple, yet hard to master dish.

Illustrations by Toh Bee Suan

Glossary
Smallholder farmers – Farmers who own small plots of land where they grow one or two crops to make money. These farmers rely almost exclusively on family labour to plant their crops.
Checkered – Characterized by shifts in fortune, can be good or bad.
F1 – First generation of offspring from parent plants or animals.
Hybridisation – A process where different varieties of plants are allowed to cross pollinate, resulting in the offspring plant having traits of both parent plants.
Non-GMO – Non Genetically Modified Organism. Usually used for crops, this means that the crop has not been modified genetically using artificial means.