Smart farming without soil - the future of Vietnamese agriculture
Truong Dang Xuan, a Vietnamese fellow from the LIF 2016/17 cohort is developing smart farms using hydroponic and IoT technology to help farmers grow more healthy, chemical-free vegetables.
What is your innovation and why is it so important?
In Vietnam, more than 30,000 people die every year from cancer and diseases linked to the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in Vietnamese agriculture.
My company, Hachi Vietnam Hitech JSC, develops smart farms using hydroponic technology (growing plants in a liquid solution without soil) for growing vegetables, like salad, tomato, melon and cucumber, with IoT sensors to monitor electrical conductivity, pH and water temperature. We help farmers build their greenhouses and install the hydroponic system and IoT hardware, provide know-how and the nutrient formula for growing vegetables, and offer a monthly subscription to seed and plant nutrients.
We are the first to build this kind of farm in the north of Vietnam.
What are the benefits?
With our innovation, farm owners can increase productivity by between 50-300%.
Farming in greenhouses reduces exposure to rain, wind and pests, meaning that pesticides are not needed and farmers can easily control temperature and humidity. Using a hydroponic system allows farmers to closely manage plant nutrient levels as they choose the amount of nutrients and minerals to use in the liquid solution. This creates a higher yield, and removes the need for chemical fertilisers. Finally, the IoT technology reduces labour costs and makes it easy for farmers to monitor their greenhouses and plants from anywhere, at any time.
How did LIF impact your business?
At LIF I learned how to scale up our business. Before going to London, we focused on urban farming, but in Vietnam the market is small so I had to pivot to building smart farms.
When I returned to Vietnam, through LIF I gained access to a large network of researchers. One of them, who attended LIF with me, suggested I apply to the Vietnam Climate Innovation Centre. They were working with the World Bank to find Vietnamese start-ups focusing on climate change reduction and green growth. I applied and won a grant of $25,000 for our project.
What are your greatest achievements since LIF?
We have built eight farms across Vietnam, each with a monthly revenue of $5,000 from selling vegetables, and together producing 16 tonnes of fresh vegetables each month. Receiving the grant from the World Bank in September 2017 was a highlight. Last year I was also selected to join the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, India (http://www.bbc.com/vietnamese/business-42176973).
What does the future look like for Hachi?
Our target for 2018 is to scale up! We aim to build 20 to 30 new farms and expand to Cambodia.
We also want to partner with restaurant chains and connect our farms to restaurants who could buy their produce, which we will manage through the Hachi mobile application. We are looking to raise $300,000.
What one tip for success would you give to your fellow innovators and researchers?
I'm still young so I don't feel I have much to share yet! But having an entrepreneurial mindset is key. Think about how you will sell a product before how you will build it.
Learn more about Hachi hydroponic farms