Billowing clouds of blue smoke that engulfed homes and roadways are one of Dr. Asad Aziz’s most prominent memories of Hanoi, Vietnam. The blue smoke was the result of farmers routinely burning rice straw, a by-product of rice harvesting.
“There were these dense clouds of blue smoke enveloping homes and kids playing outside,” Aziz said.
Vietnam is the world’s second highest producer of rice, according to MBA candidate Trang Tran.
When rice is harvested, nearly half of the product is straw — a product that previously had no use. With no other known use, it is thrown into water canals or burned in mass quantities at each harvest.
“There’s a need to clear the waste to prepare the fields. The waste becomes massive,” Tran said.
After a childhood of smoky air in Vietnam, Tran decided to change the rural landscape. Last February she founded the Fargreen Company, a sustainable, for-profit business that would better the lives of countless farmers in Vietnam.
With the help of CSU’s Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise program and Tran’s mentor, Dr. Aziz, she kicked off with a huge plan to stop rice straw burning in its tracks.
The answer to farmers’ smoke-filled atmosphere is mushrooms. A certain edible fungus proliferates on the decaying straw and happens to be a valuable commodity.
Fargreen Company comes in to work as a mediator between farmers selling mushrooms and buyers purchasing the product. By paying farmers directly for each harvest, Fargreen will supplement the monthly income of impoverished families.
“It’s not magic. You take the rice straw and you grow mushrooms,” said Tanmay Telang, MBA candidate and another member of the Fargreen team.
Selling the mushrooms will increase income and keep farmers working all year.
“It allows farmers to do what they’re best at,” Aziz said.
Fargreen has turned a once-wasteful practice into a far more sustainable process with vitually no CO2 emissions at all. The process also replenishes the soil quality, creating bio-fertilizers when the mushrooms are done growing, according to Telang.
“You can see that there is no waste in this cycle. This is called zero-waste farming,” Telang said.
For Tran, this is the chance to change Vietnam for the better in terms of economy, air quality and soil quality.
“She grew up there and she’s seen the problem all her life,” Aziz said. “It’s exciting to see her take ownership of the problem.”
“This is a real venture, it’s not just a plan,” Tran said.
Pilot programs in Vietnam were successful and the company has been up and running since.
Both Tran and Tanmay intend to stick with the company after they graduate this December. They are currently waiting on business permits in Vietnam and are hoping gain $150,000 in funding through business competitions and crowd funding.
“This is the kind of thing we have to do more of to get the planet sustainable,” Aziz said.
Fargreen’s tagline attests to this hope of making a sustainable difference — Going far, by going green.
Collegian Senior Reporter Mariah Wenzel can be reached at email@example.com. For more stories, follow her on Twitter @mariahcwenzel.