In Pakistan’s context, rice statistics are pretty impressive. Production hit 7.4 million tons placing Pakistan on the list of the 10th largest producers on the world rice chart. Please give us your output on the rice market in Pakistan and how can it be improved?
We have two segments in rice; one is the long grain rice produced in Sindh, while the other is Basmati rice produced in Punjab. Basmati Rice can only be grown in the province of Punjab, whether it is the Indian or Pakistani Punjab, due to the soil and weather conditions. Our friends in America tried to grow the seed in Texas but there was no aroma of the rice unique to Basmati and the quality was well below, subsequently they called it Texmati.
As a company we do not grow rice, we are basically millers and exporters of rice, mainly Basmati rice. First we buy the rice from local farmers and then we mill and process it for export, which is the business model for rice exporters. We also produce the seed, it is a unique supply chain.
GUARD AGRI was established in 1989, as the first private sector company with its own rice research and development facility. You are not just a rice company; you are also a seed company where you look after the seed. What are your objectives for 2019 and 2020?
Guard Rice and seeds represent just one of our businesses. My father actually founded this company in 1948 as an auto part manufacturer. In auto parts industry, we are in the business of manufacturing filters, lubricants and brake parts.
For the past 7-8 years, our scientists and breeders have been working on a Basmati hybrid grain, because the per acre yield of stagnant Basmati is very low compared to the hybrid plantations of long grain rice in Sindh. We are very close to developing a hybrid Basmati seed, it would help the Punjabi farmers who are very poor in comparison to Sindhi farmers. We expect to do large-scale trials for the hybrid Basmati seed in 2020 and if we are successful, commercial cultivation will take place in 2022. If all goes well, the income of the farmers will increase as well as production and export. The demand is certainly there, our largest markets for Basmati are the Middle East, Europe and America and long grain rice is mostly exported to African countries.
GUARD RICE is the largest export brand of Pakistan, with an established market in over 45 countries across the globe. What is your export strategy? Are you looking to expand your activities to other countries?
In terms of Basmati, the UAE is our largest market, followed by Saudi Arabia, Iran Oman, Qatar and European countries, namely the UK. Indians, Pakistanis and Arabs mostly eat Basmati rice, so there is a market for high quality and expensive rice in these countries.
For the long grain rice from Sindh, Kenya is the biggest market as well as other African countries. Indonesia and Philippines are emerging export markets for long grain rice as well. In the American market, we are trying to promote our Basmati rice by holding Basmati festivals in New York and Chicago with the help of our commercial offices. We are also planning to hold similar festivals in Toronto, Montreal and other cities in North America.
You have partnered with China’s, Yoan Longping High Tech Agriculture Company and have signed a Joint Venture agreement with BioCentury, China, number one and the world’s Leading Technology provider. Are you looking for further potential partnerships?
We are currently working on hybrid wheat with the Beijing Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Wheat is our staple diet, it is very important to us, but wheat production in Pakistan is stagnant and our per acre yield is low, we need to increase both. For this purpose we have been working with the Beijing Academy of Agricultural Sciences for the past 5-6 years, the process will need another 3 or 4 years as the research is time-consuming and this has never been attempted before. With BioCentury China we tried cotton hybrid in the past, however we failed in that venture.
Rice is a very competitive sector in Pakistan. What is the added value of Guard Rice compared to its competitors?
Our competitor has its own facility in Pakistan and a large network in UK, so its main market is the UK. We therefore do not consider them our competitors; rather they are our very good friends as they focus on their target market and do not look to compete with us anywhere else in the world. We export to 42 countries and they represent 60% of our total sales.
Which marketing strategies are you currently using to promote Guard Rice and how would you like to develop them?
We appoint importers and distributors, we meet them at exhibitions such as the Anuga Festival in Cologne, Germany. Anuga is the world’s biggest food exhibition, followed by Sial in Paris, they are held every alternate year. We build our customer base from Anuga and Sial by exhibiting our products. In the Gulf we go to Gulf Food, Dubai. We also have help from our embassy and commercial offices abroad and they recommend us good partners.
Your family has set up the Mumtaz Bakhtawar Hospital, you are also setting up Technical Colleges, Mobile Hospital Camps, Schools and Mosques. How important is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for Guard Rice? and in which CSR projects are you involved in, lately?
In terms of Corporate Social Responsibility we own two hospitals; one is a 100 beds facility called the Mumtaz Bukhtawar Hospital, the other one is near our filter factory, also with 100 beds. Besides that we are also promoting sports such as Motor Rally and Polo. We hold 3 to 4 events every year in Motor Rally.
You have dedicated the past 25 years of your life on promoting private sector research and development in agriculture. You pioneered the introduction of hybrid rice seed in Pakistan. You are the recipient of Sitara-e-Imtiaz for your contribution to agriculture and trade. What do you feel most proud of in your life?
My biggest pride is that all of my children after studying and completing their Masters degree from either the USA or the UK have come back and joined the family business instead of working abroad.
What is your final message to the readers of USA Today who consider Pakistan as a potential investment destination or looking for partnerships in the rice industry?
With the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), there is a lot of potential in Pakistan for investors to come in and invest. We would like to welcome foreign investment in Pakistan particularly in agriculture, food and automobile sectors, as they are investment friendly sectors with huge potential.