From Waste To Wealth

Women's Weekly (Malaysia) - - INSPIRE - Trang Tran, Co-Founder of Far­green

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.

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