What Happens When There’s Too Much Irrigation? Tech Entrepreneur in Vietnam Found the Answer

Over much of the world, farmers lack water to irrigate their crops. In the Central Highlands of Vietnam, farmers use too much water for irrigation.

The need for efficiency was apparent to Nguyen Khac Minh Tri who returned to that hilly, mountainous region in Dalat from a high-tech job to grow strawberries.

Over time and through trial and error, Tri applied technology to his farming practices and created a reputation for delivering greater crop yields and healthier plants. He was able to demonstrate to farmers that irrigating crops with too much water wasted precious resources, and negatively impacted their crop yields.

He realized then that the market for farm technology was huge.

Vietnam has a population of 97 million people, and 40 percent is involved in agriculture. That’s 13 farmers for every hectare, compared to China where there are 13 farm households for every 10 hectares.

Tri decided his technical education and agrarian background could fuel his entrepreneurial ambition. He changed course and became an innovator helping farmers across Vietnam.

Tri co-founded and became CEO of MimosaTEK, a company named after the orange or purple flower that grows in abundance over the region. He started the company in 2014 with just two employees.

Now, Tri has a team of 20, and the company is headquartered in Ho Chi Minh City, though it operates throughout Vietnam.

Lan Anh said MimosaTEK’s greatest challenge was to reach older farmers and convince them that a little investment in technology could increase their crop yields.

The MimosaTEK system works by placing sensors in farmers’ greenhouses or fields. The sensors measure environmental factors such as soil moisture, precipitation, air temperature, and wind speed.

Providing real-time information, the sensors give guidance on irrigation schedules through a smartphone app. Farmers can then plan accordingly how much water to use.

Tri brought Lan Anh Le to the leadership team, and she was named COO two years ago. She brought to MimosaTEK her business acumen as a certified public accountant, who had previously worked in auditing and for PricewaterhouseCoopers, a business consultancy.

“The farmers would tell Tri that the soil had to be irrigated such that water dripped from a handful of dirt,” said Lan Anh.

“Just the opposite was true. It was wasting water resources, and the over-watering was causing unhealthy crops,” she added. “The Central Highlands often had a dearth of water and farmers were wasting that dwindling resource.”

Lan Anh said MimosaTEK’s greatest challenge was to reach older farmers and convince them that a little investment in technology could increase their crop yields.

“We are doing this by bringing on early adopters of our technical measurement systems and having them demonstrate to older farmers,” said Lan Anh. She added that they were also active in holding demonstrations at government-sponsored events.

The results thus far: “We’re not there yet,” said Lan, who is the overall manager of the business on the MimosaTEK leadership team. “But we are making progress.”

Before the company became involved in the Securing Water for Food program, MimosaTEK had only 50 customers for their systems. After two years, they have 300 450 and have a goal to increase that three-fold in 2019, said Lan Anh.

Among the farmers using the MimosaTEK system—costing about $500 for small farmers—the yields have jumped from between 10 and 30 percent.

“In earlier days,” she said, “We attempted to offer more than what most farmers felt they needed. Many farmers felt the cost of technology was simply too high. We’ve scaled this back and become more focused.”

The proof is in the result, she said. “Farmers are seeing greater yields and more healthy crops.”

USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Governments of The Netherlands and South Africa invested $35 million in Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to promote science and technology solutions that enable the production of more food with less water and/or make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.

This story was developed through the SWFF Social Impact Storytelling Initiative which was established to document innovator journeys and social impact as they work to improve the way water is being used for agriculture. #socialimpact #innovation #agriculture #water