Hybrid rice, says the woman at the helm of SL Agritech Corp., is one of the solutions in addressing the issue of food security in the country.
I sat down recently with SL Agritech senior vice-president Michelle Lim-Gankee for a virtual interview and I learned a lot about hybrid rice, her leadership, and her childhood years.
With hybrid rice varieties, she said, the country has an edge in battling the threat of food shortages because farmers can produce rice crops that eventually translates to a higher yield.
Food stability in the Philippines, as we are well aware by now, has been a continuing problem. In fact, experts warn that the problem could worsen and lead to a food crisis by the end of this year.
Michelle is determined to ensure that SL Agritech will continue to play an active role in helping improve food security in the country through rice varieties that will produce higher yield. As the woman helping her father, businessman Henry Lim Bon Liong, SL Agritech CEO, steer the company to greater heights, Michelle has learned so much from her childhood years growing up in a Filipino-Chinese entrepreneurial family that values frugality and hard work.
Contrary to misconceptions, she said she did not feel she was born with a silver spoon, which has made her aware of the realities of life in the Philippines early on.
In fact, she said, she was raised with zero allowance. Her parents did not feel the need to give her an allowance because the helpers prepared a sandwich for her anyway.
But there was a time when she wanted junk food very much, so she went to get one. She told the canteen cashier she did not have an allowance, hoping she would not have to pay. However, the cashier sternly told her to put the snack back.
Upon hearing this, her classmate insisted on buying the snack for her. When she told her father about this, and upon learning that her classmate is from the family who is behind their notebook company’s competitor, her father started giving her an allowance of P50 a week. It was not much, so she had to budget every centavo.
It was a good training for her to see the value of money and not grow up spoiled.
She grew up well aware of the family business, the Sterling Group, which sells paper supplies, photo albums, notebooks, and greeting cards.
They lived in a two-story house in Caloocan when she was growing up. The first floor was the office and she grew up in the company of the workers and employees. She would sit on the rolls of paper or watch in awe as the artists designed the greeting cards.
She knew early on the different parts of the business. After finishing her studies at De La Salle University – College of St. Benilde with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, majoring in Computer Applications in 1998, she tried applying in other companies to prove herself. She eventually ended up in the family business as her father wanted, but she wasn’t given top positions immediately, She held various positions, including category and marketing manager, marketing director, etc.
Her father eventually designated her as executive vice president of SL Agritech in 2011, a position she holds until now.
Today, SL Agritech strives to help farmers improve their lives while stabilizing the price of rice in the market, she said.
In 2020, the company launched the Masaganang Ani 300 program, which aims to increase the country’s rice productivity. Through the program, farmers were able to produce 300 to 339 cavans/ha of rice.
Meeting the country’s growing demand for rice
Henry Lim Bon Liong said the firm’s technology is capable of meeting the country’s growing demand for rice.
“My goal, not just for SL Agritech but also for the country, is to enable the utilization of hybrid rice technology that will boost our rice production while increasing the net income of our farmers,” he said.
A mechanical engineering graduate of UP Diliman, Lim took over the family business in 1976 when his father died. The business grew with the help of his siblings and they diversified to other ventures, the latest of which is hybrid rice production.
In 2000, SL Agritech was born. Armed with a vision of a rice self-sufficient Philippines and the support of Prof. Yuan Longping, the father of hybrid rice, Lim’s team created the first Philippine tropical hybrid rice variety, SL-8H.
The company became the leading commercial producer of rice seeds, significantly raising the yield and income of farmers from the Philippines and other Asian countries, such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Myanmar, etc.
To this day, Lim actively promotes hybrid rice technology, believing it is key to solving the twin problems of hunger and poverty.
What’s next for SL Agritech? Will there be an initial public offering in the future? This remains to be seen, but for now, the goal is to continue playing a role in ensuring food security in the country, says Michelle.
I learned a lot listening to her and I do hope that Filipino farmers will continue to get the support and help they need in increasing their yield, whether it’s from the government or the private sector.