Urban Resilience in Agriculture Through Highly Automated Vertical Farming in Vietnam and the UK

Project: Urban Resilience in Agriculture Through Highly Automated Vertical Farming in Vietnam and the UK

Funding: British Council – Going Global Partnerships

Duration: 2022-2024

Main partners:  London Digital Twin Research Centre (Middlesex University London. UK) and Van Lang University (VLU), Vietnam

Associated partners: Khang Thinh Irrigation technology Jsc, Vietnam

Project members:

VLU team, Vietnam:

    • Prof. PhD. Tran Thi My Dieu (Environment), Vietnam PI
    • Ngo Minh Hung (Urban & Rural planning), Co-I
    • Jennifer B. Verances (Environmental sustainability studies), Co-I
    • Vu Thi Quyen (Vertical farming expert), Co-I
    • Ho Thi Thanh Hien (Environment engineering), Co-I and
    • 4 researchers: Ms. Ngo Thi Ngoc Thuy (Fishery major), Mr. Quang Van Son (local culture studies), Mr. Nguyen Tuan Khang (Environment), Mr. Nguyen Trung Hieu (Urban Planning).

Middlesex University team, UK:

    • Prof. Huan X. Nguyen (IoT solutions), UK PI
    • Dr. Meri Juntti (farmer participation and urban ecosystem service delivery), UK Co-I
    • Prof. Balbir Barn (smart apps, policy making, training programme and guidance), UK Co-I

Summary:

As global population continues to grow and arable land declines, highly automated vertical farms are gaining popularity in the urban context. This increases the scope for food production, saves water and energy, while maximizing the nutrients and freshness of the product that can be controlled to provide security with economical system.

Ho Chi Minh City has an agricultural land area of about 88,000 hectares, accounting for 55% of the total land area, but the contribution of the agricultural sector to the city’s GRDP is only 0.8%. With about 10 million people, Ho Chi Minh City needs about 333 thousand tons of fresh vegetables and fruits every month, while the production capacity of the city’s agricultural industry can only meet about 10% of this demand. The dependence in rural has put Ho Chi Minh City in passive position during COVID-19 epidemic.

Highly automated and efficient agriculture in the UK produced 64% of the total amount of food but Brexit (January 31, 2020), has caused supply chain instability and economic uncertainty in the sector. Moreover,  climate change, workforce shortage, environmental challenges, and the COVID-19 pandemic have placed further pressure on farmers. All this may exacerbate existing food poverty and lack of access to fresh produce in cities.

In the context of the increasing population in both countries, highly automated vertical farm systems constitute a highly useful adaptation responding to the pressures on supply as well as environmental concerns. However, despite growing popularity, farmers and the public are unaware of its benefits and lack the skills to use this system, instead favouring more expensive set-ups with  higher water and energy costs. Therefore, in this project, we aim to increase awareness, provide  knowledge and develop adaptability as the foundation for  wide-spread implementation of a highly automated vertical farm system in sustainable and economical way. The project aims to help farmers access new farming models suitable to household conditions, enhance self-sufficiency and increase householder income. The project will pilot design 01 greenhouse in Vietnam, and 01 in the UK. Inside the greenhouse, two high-tech farming models: (1) Vertical Garden (Vertical farming: both makes farming area and produces clean vegetables with large output; (2) Hydroponics (a system of growing vegetables in a growth medium other than natural soil. All nutrients are dissolved in irrigation water and provided regularly to plants). These models are set up with Smart IoT Technology (monitoring environmental conditions: temperature, humidity, light, and growth control through apps on smartphones).

The project will also study the awareness of the vertical farming systems. The target audience of this study are high schools, high school teachers, grade 11 and grade 12 students, local authorities in education and environmental sector, potential industry clients, farmers in urban and peri-urban areas,  and potential urban residential farmers. First, we undertake a pre-assessment awareness survey of the target audience; second, conduct 3-4 workshops about the system using the pilot setups in Van Lang University (Vietnam) and Middlesex University, (UK); and finally, a post-assessment awareness survey. Using a theory of change model, we will define and describe educational awareness interventions based on our pilot setups and use the surveys to evaluate change.

Kick-off meeting: Link