From Waste To Wealth
In agricultural entrepreneur Trang Tran’s native Vietnam, farmers burn straw and husks that remain after the rice harvest. This ends up releasing noxious smoke and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Tran’s solution: Using rice straw to cultivate mushrooms. Her social enterprise Fargreen is standardising the process and teaching farmers how to recycle their own agricultural waste and improve their livelihoods. Tran tells us how the idea evolved.
What was the presenting problem? Rice straw burning happens every harvest season and has been done for years, as it is the most convenient way of getting rid of waste. Unfortunately, not only does this contribute to climate change, but people inhale the matter, causing very serious health problems, particularly in babies. Poor communities are most affected, and of course, they have the least money for healthcare. What sparked the idea to use rice straw to grow mushrooms?
While studying in the US, I kept thinking about this problem of rice straw waste. Getting my MBA gave me a way to see the problem differently and find a new way to approach it.
A friend, Thuy Dao, shared my fascination. I joked, “Maybe someday we’ll work together on this problem.”
From the local perspective, we had to ask, “What’s in it for the farmers not to burn?” If there is nothing in it for them and burning can save them time so they can prepare for their next crop, you cannot blame them for doing so.
So we tried to think a bit differently: What can we offer the farmers that would make it worthwhile not to burn?
In our research, we discovered rice straw can be used to grow mushrooms. We bought some spawn, collected some straw and grew a crop.
In between rice seasons, most of the farmers have to travel to the city to find employment. If they can stay on their land and cultivate a profitable crop, it would alleviate a lot of hardship.
How did it turn into an enterprise?
We came up with a satellite business model. If we could get the farmers to grow the mushrooms while we retained control of the quality of the crops, we knew there would be a good market for them. Right now, we work with a small group of farmers. Our target is to have hundreds in our network in seven years. What are Fargreen’s future plans?
We would love to share with -other neighbouring countries who have this problem too. It would be an attractive opportunity for farmers who want to diversify their income. The goal is to build prosperous and sustainable farming communities, prioritise the environment and create a successful enterprise. That is why we called it Fargreen – going far by going green.