A partnership to scale an innovative vertical farming technology to increase sustainable food production and free up agriculture land for rehabilitation. The partnership will test and expand existing vertical farm technology to demonstrate the climate and economic value of vertical farms in the Mekong Delta, an area vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
Vietnam is widely recognised as one of the countries likely to be most adversely impacted by climate change and sea level rise owing to the very large population inhabiting low-lying coastal and delta areas. The Mekong Delta in particular, is home to around 21.5 million people that are predominantly dependent on land and production of major agricultural commodity crops such as rice, seafood and fruit for export that are exposed to increasingly frequent and severe droughts, saline intrusion and floods.
In response, the Government of Viet Nam developed Resolution 120 proposing urgent actions for the Sustainable and Climate Resilient Development of the Mekong Delta. The transformation of the agricultural sector to adapt to the changing environmental conditions is a major priority of the resolution, and the private sector has a critical role to play in introducing and scaling innovative technologies. Orlar’s vertical farming technology offers an important solution, particularly in estuarine and near-coastal areas where due to rapidly rising salinity levels, agricultural production needs to shift from rice production (which uses a lot of water, including groundwater which is pumped to the surface causing land subsidence and further saline intrusion) to other and higher value crops. The Orlar technology enables greatly increased production of higher value vegetables (more dong per drop) on land which is no longer suitable for rice production. With a strong commitment to social good, Orlar also aims to create good jobs and employment opportunities through their business model, with a particular focus on gender equality and social inclusion.
About the initiative
This partnership aims to scale an innovative vertical farming technology to increase sustainable food production and free up agriculture land for rehabilitation. Orlar’s vertical pods are the result of five years of research and optimisation. The advanced technology is ten times more productive compared to other alternatives, uses less land, 95% less water, and has no greenhouse gas emissions with zero plastic and nutrient pollution. The land the vertical pods free up will be rehabilitated and returned to native vegetation.
Through the partnership Orlar will adapt its technology to include efficient temperature control for use in low altitudes such as the Mekong Delta. This requires a series of scaled tests and a model pilot site to demonstrate that high-value temperate crops can be grown in areas not traditionally viable to produce such crops. This will create jobs and income and provide relief to the stressed landscapes in the Central Highlands and Mekong Delta.
Championing gender equality
Orlar is a women-led business with strong female representation in its workplace (80%) and at the management levels. This initiative will generate new jobs (80% women, ~20% ethnic minority) in safe working conditions where employees are not exposed to toxic chemicals. In contrast, local farming jobs tend to involve exposure to chemicals, creating significant health risks to women, men, and their families.
The partners are exploring the potential for a new micro-finance model that will facilitate local women and communities to acquire shares of their farms. While this is not part of the BPP initiative, it is a further demonstration of the partners’ commitment and willingness to champion gender equality.
Key contributions from partners
- Orlar Vietnam will lead the project by bringing its high-tech vertical farming technology to the Mekong River Delta.
- Raise Partners will support the partnership by developing the GESI-focused monitoring and evaluation framework as well as developing relationships with potential funders.
- SNV Netherland Development Organisation will provide technical support in identifying an appropriate location and engaging local farming communities and other relevant stakeholders to participate in the Mekong Delta pilot site. At the same time SNV will support Orlar to promote a socially-inclusive business model and document lessons learned for sharing in key policy fora such as the Mekong Delta Forum.
- Australian Government will provide catalytic funding and access to gender expertise to strengthen social and commercial impacts, connection to an extensive network, capability building on how to capture report social impact, safeguards standards and practices, national and global recognition.
Hear from our partners
ORLAR: “We expect to continue making genuine and wonderful contributions to the development of the communities in which operate. But this funding allows us to advance opportunities into the Mekong Delta and other lowlands where temperate agriculture is very difficult, and some would say impossible without using extremely high levels of energy. We can operate in these areas with 1% of the energy of other agri-technologies, net zero emissions, and 400x more water use efficiency than rice. Our latest tests show once again, zero residues in all our produce. The BPP accelerates our mission to create more clean jobs and more clean food for the development of Vietnam.”
SNV: “Viet Nam’s Mekong Delta is facing urgent, existential threats from climate change. In the space of just a couple of generations, the lands of millions of farmers will be either inundated or subject to such high levels of salinity that traditional production of crops such as rice will be impossible. This is already happening in many coastal and estuarine areas. Rapid transformation is needed, and it requires private sector innovation and investment. What excites me is the combination of Orlar’s technology with their strong commitment for gender equality and social inclusion. They offer a practical solution to one of humankind’s greatest challenges – producing food for a growing population with less resources – and in one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable regions. SNV is proud to contribute to this partnership and hope that our expertise on socially inclusive agribusiness helps to shape a climate smart solution with huge potential for scaling.”
Raise Partners: “As an emerging market, Vietnam has the potential for a very bright future and has captured the interest of investors worldwide. The country continues, however, to suffer from issues such as climate change and gender inequality that affect its economic growth and ability to withstand system shocks such as COVID-19. Orlar’s leadership and ethos are impressive because they recognize how these issues are inextricably linked, and offer an innovative business model that actively seeks to improve the environment and society in which they operate without sacrificing the bottom line. Raise Partners is excited to join Orlar on this journey to change the way agriculture companies have traditionally operated to become more responsible, sustainable, and profitable.”
This partnership was selected through the BPP’s Vietnam 2020 Call for Green Recovery Partnerships.