A Journey Begins
In the late 1990s, Henry Lim realized that to stay in business, he had to be creaUve and think of what lies ahead. His flagship, Sterling Paper was a virtual monopoly in the paper and notebook industry. But Henry believed that the information age had overtaken his paper company. Thus, he ventured into another line of business. Lim was in search of his new product when he had the chance to have a casual conversation with the then-Vice President Joseph Estrada about China’s rice sufficiency. He also remembered Estrada saying that once he became the President, agriculture will be his first priority.
During that time, Lim didn’t know anything about rice, its price per kilo, how it was produced, its annual production, and how many hectares and farmers were involved in rice farming. So he embarked on a long and intense research. He found that from the 1950s to 1980s, life was so difficult in China that many people died of hunger every year. He also learned that the Chinese government advocated for farming to be a priority. China was able to build a legacy of combating food shortages and hunger through the successful development of hybrid rice seeds. Lim thought that if China could do it, the Philippines should, too.
Lim’s research led him to go to China where he met Professor Yuan Long Ping, the father of hybrid rice technology. Prof. Yuan was the answer to Lim’s search. Lim asked for his technical guidance on the development of hybrid seeds. The pair found that they worked well together and shared a common vision. This was the start of their partnership. Prof. Yuan then sent three of his best and most trusted scientists to work with Lim.
Lim’s venture into rice hybridization technology was an uphill battle. It required a lot of research and resources from the Sterling Group, with the risk of no returns. The first 75 different varieties of Chinese crops that he and his scientists tested all failed. Lim would have given up this new venture if not for his mother, Maria Co Chiao Ti Lim. She urged her son to keep trying. She advised him that in order to succeed, he would need to develop a variety that could withstand the soil and climate of the Philippines.
Lim shared this advice with his scientists. They told him that they would have to open their own research center and experimental field for the development of hybrid rice seeds.
In 1998, Lim began to look for a property where he and his scientists could build the research facility. He found a 40-hectare property in Laguna with excellent isolation and irrigation, but unfortunately it was a big investment -- P100-million. He almost backed out because the amount was really too much during that time. But he bit the bullet, and the rest is history.
Thus, SL Agritech Corporation was born. Its goal remains the same: to develop and produce a hybrid rice that will help the Philippines attain rice-sufficiency. More than this, SL Agritech wants the Philippines to become known worldwide for its rice production.
Developing SL-8H Super Hybrid Seeds
On November 17, 2000, a tragedy struck the Lim family. They had gone on a trip, inaugurating a department store in Olongapo, Zambales. That night, a truck overtaking another vehicle rammed into their family van.
Doña Maria Co Chiao Ti Lim, then the chairman of three of the family’s businesses, died instantly. Her son Willy Lim Bon Leck and the family driver died later in a hospital. The others, including Henry Lim and his sister-in-law, were seriously injured.
Henry Lim was devastated. But he carried on to pursue the family’s vision, to develop a hybrid rice variety that would uplift the Philippines.
But out of this tragedy, success was born. Two months after the accident, Prof. Zhang Zhaodong, one of Lim’s scientists, had a breakthrough in the research.
Prof. Zhaodong shared that he woke up at dawn to find his bed shaking. At first, he thought it was an earthquake. But when he opened his eyes, he was surprised to find Doña Maria standing in front of his bed. She told him to go out to the field and check the plants. He rushed out to the field and felt a presence leading him to plot No. 8. Prof. Zhaodong spent the whole morning looking at all the flowers. Finally, he noticed that the rice plants in plot No. 8 showed signs of fertilization! Prof. Zhaodong called and congratulated Henry Lim . They had finally found a stable plant, and could now start sharing the seeds of progress.
Lim called this first variety SL-8H. SL for Seh Leng (his father), 8 for the plot number his mother had led them to, and H for hybrid. This variety has made SL Agritech Corporation the leading commercial producer of rice seeds that have significantly raised the yield of farmers in the Philippines.
The dream comes true
Lim was able to fulfill his dream to start a hybrid rice business. Today, SL Agritech Corporation has more or less 900 people in its research, production and administrative facilities located in Makati City, Laguna, Nueva Ecija, Bulacan and Davao Oriental.
The company now has three branded super hybrid rice seeds, the SL-8H, SL-18H and SL-12H, which are being distributed in the Philippines and exported in Vietnam, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Indonesia and India.
SL Agritech Corporation has also ventured into milled rice production. This is done through a network of contract growers who exclusively grow the Doña Maria Premium Quality Rice and Willy Farms Rice. These rice products are available in major supermarkets in the Philippines. More importantly, the company has started exporting to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Singapore, Australia, United Arab Emirates and United States of America.
But it isn’t the revenue or expanded distribution that define the success of SL Agritech Corporation. The company marks its success by the impact it makes in the lives of thousands of farmers who plant SL hybrid rice seed varieties.
The company is committed to continue its social effort in gearing farmers to convert from inbred to hybrid seeds to be able to transform the agricultural landscape, attain rice self-sufficiency and increase rice yields. It also encourages farmers to be entrepreneurs while shifting the mindset and attitude towards the advantages and benefits of hybrid rice. The company actively promotes hybrid rice technology to the Philippines and its neighboring countries believing it is the key to solve hunger and poverty.