BẾN TRE — With the unique idea of using fermented bagasse (sugercane pulp) to treat shrimp ponds, Trần Phúc Hậu has become the proud director of a company that produces microbiological bagasse pulp.
His idea won second prize at the National Start-up Competition 2018 held by the National Start-up Programme Steering Committee.
To set up Đại Thành Aquatic Product Trading Co Ltd, which is in Bình Đại District in the southern province of Bến Tre, Hậu faced a number of difficulties.
Hậu, 31, was from a poor family. Witnessing his parents work hard in the fields to raise seven children, Hậu was determined to be a success.
He passed the entrance exam to the HCM City University of Economics in 2006 where he nurtured a dream for a start-up in the agricultural industry.
He started with a shop selling shrimp feed in 2012, but at that time shrimps in the area were being hit by an epidemic and died en masses. Local farmers could not pay Hậu for the feed had bought, leaving him with a debt of more than VNĐ200 million (US$8,700).
“I wasn't discouraged, and I searched for information online and found a farmer named Võ Hồng Ngoãn in Bạc Liêu Province who was using bagasse pulp to prevent diseases hitting shrimp farms,” he said.
Hậu contacted Ngoãn to learn from his experience and started researching the product.
“I discovered that bagasse provides a good environment for useful microorganisms to grow and repress microorganisms that are harmful to shrimp,” Hậu told Việt Nam News.
Bagasse pulp also helps shrimp gain resistance and restores mineral in the ponds.
However, Hậu was broke and had to scrape around to raise VNĐ10 million ($430).
Hậu started collecting bagasse from around his village, despite ridicule from locals. Luckily, he was supported by his family.
He conducted dozens of tests, but couldn't get the bagasse to ferment.
He tried adjusting his method by using different kinds of microbiology, and eventually he succeeded.
But then came the next problem. His product was new and strange, and people were reluctant to buy it.
Hậu decided to use the product in his own pond first.
The bagasse pulp is mixed with medicinal herbs and can be used as feed to reduce diseases and replace antibiotics in the ponds.
“When harvest season came, I had a good crop, and my expenses were 30 per cent less than other farmers,” he said.
Now he sells more than 30 tonnes from north to south such as Trà Vinh, Sóc Trăng, Kiên Giang, Bạc Liêu, Ninh Thuận and Nam Định.
Hậu packages his product. — Photo courtesy of Trần Phúc Hậu
Mai Văn Hưng, a farmer in Bình Thới Commune, Bình Đại District, told Đồng Khởi e-newspaper that Hậu’s bagasse pulp has proved to be very effective in his shrimp pond.
The pulp helped improve the water and allowed water plants to grow.
What Hưng likes the product the most is that it is cheaper than other feeding but brings better results.
Phan Văn Mãi, chairman of the Bến Tre Start-up Consultancy Committee, also told Đồng Khởi e-newspaper that Hậu’s model was one of a few in the province that had been highly appreciated in the market.
The committee would create good conditions for Hậu and other people with start-up ideas to promote their creations. This would help them earn more money and enrich the province and the country, he said.
On average, each month Hậu earns VNĐ40 million (US$1,700) in profit from microbiological bagasse pulp.
“The more I do, the more confident I feel with my product,” he said.
Hậu said he planned to research more biological methods including medicinal herbs to protect shrimp from diseases towards sustainable models adapted to climate change.
At present, Hậu’s company is connected with more than 50 households in the area with shrimp ponds covering 20ha. Their target is to improve the quality so the shrimp can be exported.
“When people begin start-up ideas, the most important thing is defining clearly their targets. The target is not only immediate profits, but also unique, effective and sustainable products,” Hậu told Việt Nam News.
They also needed to live up with those targets and should not be satisfied with what they'd got, he said. — VNS