12/4/13 – This guest post is written by GSSE Students Trang Tran and Tanmay Telang, and biological engineer Thuy Dao, co-founders of Fargreen – a mushroom processing business that utilizes farmer networks in Vietnam to use a former waste products as the growing medium.
Vietnam is the second biggest rice exporter in the world. Every year the country alone produces about 40 million tons of rice and that generates over 20 million tons of rice straw. Rice straw is perceived as useless and farmers often burn it after harvesting the rice. For every ton of rice straw burned, more than one ton of toxic CO2 and NO is released in the environment. Realizing the great environmental damage caused by open rice straw burning, and wanting to help farmer families back home in Vietnam tackle this problem in a way that is sustainable and beneficial to the environment and local community, Trang, Thuy, and Tanmay founded Fargreen.
The Business Model
The central idea of Fargreen is to employ a unique technique called Zero Waste Farming Technology to utilize rice straw to produce mushrooms and bio-fertilizers in a cyclical manner in which no net waste is left at the end of the process. Fargreen creates a network of farmers who collect rice straw waste after harvesting the rice and cultivating edible mushrooms from that waste in their backyard. The mushrooms will be collected and sent to Fargreen’s processing center where they will be processed, packaged and sold as a premium product to high-end customers (restaurants, supermarkets, urban consumers) under the Fargreen brand. The leftover waste after cultivating mushrooms will be donated to the local farmers as an eco-friendly fertilizer for potato, flower and rice farming.
In July 2013, Trang Tran returned home and conducted a small pilot with Thuy in Thuc Khang commune, Hai Duong province, Vietnam. The two joined forces with three other farmers in the community to collect rice straw and grow mushrooms in the backyard of their house. The pilot was successful and the team received a lot of positive feedback from both the local people and the local authority. The team is now expanding their network to include one farmers’ cooperative consisting of ten female farmers.
Fargreen will enable each farmer to generate an additional sustainable source of income of up to $600 per year. This is a significant rise in income levels for the average farmer in Vietnam, whose annual income is less than $1,500. This income is generated in between the two rice growing seasons of the year, and thus, helps prevent farmers’ migration to the cities in search of employment.
The (Triple) Bottom Line
With Fargreen, the environment gets cleaner, the rural farmers get richer and the society gets a better and safer supply of food. Fargreen’s founders consider Fargreen as their dream baby and are all committed to go on till the end with it. The team is incorporating the company in Vietnam and entering a number of competitions to get startup capital to build their processing plant and expand their network of rural farmers. For more information, follow our progress on Facebook.