This feature story is an outcome of infoDev, a multi-donor program administered by the World Bank Group, with a focus on entrepreneurs in developing economies. This story was originally published on October 19, 2017.
Those of us who live in cities often have a romanticized idea of life as a farmer. We imagine clean living, healthy eating, and zero waste. The reality, however, is much harsher. As each harvest is sent to market, mounds of agricultural waste are left behind.
In Vietnam, a major rice producer and the world’s second-largest coffee exporter, this waste quickly adds up to create environmental problems. The small nation’s vast agricultural sector produces 70 million tons per year of crop residues. Often, farmers choose between abandoning their waste, which can cause water pollution, or burning the residues and polluting the air with greenhouse gas emissions. While composting the crop residues is a more sustainable solution, farmers rarely have the patience or the expertise to do so.
Fortunately, one company has come up with an innovative way to turn this waste challenge into a business opportunity. Micro Technology and Environment JSC (MITECOM) has developed cultures of effective microorganisms (EMIC) that quickly break down various crop residues into organic fertilizers.
By speeding up the composting process, MITECOM has created a solution to minimize farmers’ environmental impact, while also introducing a lower-cost fertilizer into the market. As an added benefit, their organic fertilizer can replace chemical fertilizers which often degrade the soil and contaminate water.
MITECOM is a client of the Vietnam Climate Innovation Center (VCIC), which has provided funding and support on how to develop and market its product and enabled the company to scale up its operations. While the environmental benefits and lower cost of MITECOM’s product is clear, it has been a challenge to wean farmers from the chemical fertilizers they have been using for decades.
With VCIC support, MITECOM has conducted demonstrations for farmer groups that handle large amounts of paddy straw, rice husks, maize husks, cassava stems, bagasse, and peanut shells and leaves, to increase their confidence in the reliability of the new method and its cost-effectiveness compared to chemical fertilizers. Through partnerships with local farmer associations and World Vision, MITECOM is now working with 160 farmers, mostly in northern and central Vietnam where the coffee production is located.
Since MITECOM expanded its production facilities and began developing new markets, over 10,000 units of EMIC products have been sold, resulting in the prevention of 15,600 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. In addition to increasing its sales, the company has created 25 new jobs, including 12 women, for EMIC sellers and personnel training farmers on sustainability. MITECOM’s success doesn’t end here. It has raised $170,000 in grants from the government of Vietnam to expand its reach to farmers across the country by installing the fermentation and EMIC multiplication equipment in new locations.
When asked if MITECOM fears competition, as there are similar products in the market, founder Le Dinh Duan responds that the strength of the company is in the quality of its product and that he would actually welcome the possibility of working with other fertilizer producers to improve quality.
What is next for MITECOM? It aspires to play a role of “educator” in Vietnam on sustainable agriculture methods and products. The founder’s dream is to set up a research institution to work alongside farming communities, developing other organic products and educating farmers on sustainable farming techniques.
MITECOM is one of dozens of innovative clean tech companies that the Vietnam Climate Innovation Center supports. Their solutions span agriculture, water management, solar energy, clean stoves, and other sectors.
The center is managed by infoDev's Climate Technology Program, a World Bank Group initiative sponsored by the U.K.’s Department for International Development, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Australian Aid), Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DANIDA), Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs.