French national Patrick Renucci and his Filipino wife Rachel were living a very comfortable life in Paris when they decided to leave everything and move to the rural town of Alang-Alang, Leyte in 2015.
Back then, Patrick owned one of the largest printing presses in France, while Rachel was a successful investment banker. But the couple only had one goal in mind: to help the people in Leyte recover from the devastating effects of typhoon Yolanda.
“We were living in Paris, we used to live a beautiful life, a comfortable life, then came typhoon Yolanda. And you know typhoon Yolanda is the biggest typhoon ever in the world. And all the media in the world put the image on TV and we were all shocked,” Patrick Renucci said.
“We were so affected that my wife and I decided to move to Leyte to set up a sustainable business to help the people recover.”
After careful study, the Renuccis decided the best way to help was to invest their life savings in a sustainable rice production business that would help debt-ridden farmers in Leyte.
They started providing low-interest loans and provided seeds at zero interest to farmers. They would then buy rice harvests at above-market prices.
“We discovered a well-kept secret that not many Filipinos know: Leyte is the top rice-producing region in the country. So we said, 'okay, so much palay but not so many post-harvest facilities.' Let’s invest our money here. Let’s put what we have in this province and at the same time help our farmers, at the same time bring technology to the Philippines and bring world-class rice to the Filipino people,” Rachel said.
Four years later, the couple would inaugurate in Alang-Alang, Southeast Asia’s most technologically advanced rice processing center.
The center uses new technology in drying, storing and milling rice, which is expected to help significantly increase farmers’ harvest and incomes.
The facility impressed no less than President Rodrigo Duterte, who toured their facility Friday. In his speech during the inauguration program, Duterte said that he wants to replicate the couple’s business model in other parts of the country.
“Really, I'd like to thank you from the bottom of my heart. And if we can work together, if you want to stay in the Philippines, and I said considering the amount that you have invested… I'm not that rich but I can give you another P1.5 billion to do your thing,” Duterte said.
“We have the money. Not much, but we have the money, and we can replicate that in about… Well, I am putting him to task in Mindanao.”
The President also offered a Filipino citizenship to Patrick and expressed his desire to appoint the Frenchman to his cabinet.
“Ah, maybe I'll try --- experimental lang naman. If he becomes a naturalized citizen, then I think he is qualified to be a member of the Cabinet. Then I can maybe ask Sir Patrick that you join us and help us because it’s really agriculture. Most of it is really the stomach of the Filipino,” Duterte said.
They may have turned their backs on Paris, but the Renuccis say they have no regrets. They plan to stay for good in Leyte, as they plan to reach out and help more farmers in the province.
“Paris is a beautiful city. Sometimes we have some regrets because we have beautiful restaurants [and] we used to have beautiful friends. In fact, we cannot compare. We are very happy here in the Philippines because of what we are doing,” Patrick said.
“I’ve lived all over the world and it feels right coming home,” Rachel said.
“To be able to achieve this while at the same time alleviating lives of Filipinos is a different kind of happiness, it’s incomparable.”