Echoing Green’s UpStart features talks featuring voices from our community alongside a guest-led Q&A discussion about the broader implications of their work. August’s UpStart featured Trang Tran ’14, founder of Fargreen, joined by Catie Ryan, senior project manager at sustainability consultancy Terrapin Bright Green.
Climate change is here. When Echoing Green Fellow Trang Tran, co-founder of Fargreen, joined us in August, data showed that July 2016 was the hottest month on record. Just two weeks before, heavy rains caused flooding and damage to Fargreen’s facilities in Vietnam. The need to build up climate resilience alongside taking measures to address practices that contribute to causes of climate change is urgent, particularly in these regions.
Burning rice straw in the open is still common practice in Southeast Asia, leading to carcinegen and greenhouse gas-laden smog to fill the air for months at a time in the biannual rice seasons. Fargreen’s solution presents a way for rice farmers in Northern Vietnam to safely repurpose the agricultural waste – an environmental benefit that also has economic benefits for farmers who work with the company. Farmers use rice straw to cultivate mushrooms provided by Fargreen when rice harvest is over. By safely composting the waste and adding another growing season, rural farmers are positively impacting the environment and earning additional income as the mushrooms and other vegetables are sold at market under the Fargreen brand.
Trang knows that Fargreen works because it’s a partnership with the farmers. They have recently joined UNDP’s Business Call to Action, committing to helping 1,000 smallholder rice farmers increase their incomes by 50 percent through their sustainiable farming model. During her UpStart talk, Trang left the audience with a deeper understanding of the impact and trajectory of the simple model. During a stimulating conversation with UpStart Asker Catie Ryan, senior project manager at sustainability consultancy Terrapin Bright Green, a few lessons emerged.
Do business together.
Fargreen is not out to “save” anybody. When Fargreen partners with farmers, the conversation is about building a business together. As Trang says, their model will not work without true partnership with farmers in the village: understanding their challenges and needs is the best place to start. So far, Fargreen has been able to help many of their farmers increase their income by 50-70 percent. By building a business model that pays the farmers monthly, reliably, and on time, they have reinforced relationships that help Fargreen and its network of farmers to grow and thrive.
Climate change is cross-cutting.
Farmers know that burning rice straw has bad consequences for their health and the environment without a company coming in to point it out. As Catie recounted from her own experiences in Northern Thailand, during burning season the air is so coated in smoke that “you wouldn’t even know you were surrounded by mountains in the valley.” True, Fargreen’s simple approach increases farmer incomes and improves the environment in the villages they operate in, but the effects of their work are cross-cutting: gains can be seen in improved respiratory health, reduced illness from insecticides and pesticides, and improved economic opportunity for women and families who are able to earn additional income.
Scale will come from partnerships
Fargreen is needed in Vietnam, which Trang reports is one of 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change. In an age where people trust farming less as a reliable income, the more that the word spreads about Fargreen, the more people will see the potential to earn continuous income that can support their families rather than having to migrate to the city for factory work. As other companies, farming communities, and the government see the value in the work, and market consumers enjoy the produce, the opportunity for new partnerships will help the enterprise to grow into more communities in Vietnam.
Check out Trang’s UpStart presentation on Facebook!