A young man returned home to invent an internet-integrated system that helps farmers produce more food with less water.
Tri Nguyen, CEO of MimosaTEK, was born and raised in Dalat, a city in the Central Highlands region of Vietnam, where the land is mountainous and fertile. He grew up surrounded by local farmers who planted a rich variety of products — from bell peppers and flowers to coffee and bananas. Tri moved to Ho Chi Minh City to work in the information technology sector as a young man, but when the opportunity came, he decided to return to his roots and start a strawberry farm with his friends in Dalat.
Tri turned to the local farmers to learn everything he could about growing strawberries. But he kept hearing something that didn’t seem right: The farmers instructed him to irrigate until water dripped out of the soil when he picked it up in his hands.
Tri did some research that confirmed his instincts: The farmers didn’t need to be using that much water. But when he told his neighbors, they insisted on continuing to overwater their crops. It was how they were taught and how they had farmed all their lives.
“I realized then that the farmers based their decisions on experiences instead of scientific data,” says Tri.
Smallholder and family farmers in Dalat water their crops based on what they see and feel. They don’t consult data on the weather or rainfall because they were never taught to do so. This is leading to excessive irrigation, which can stunt growth or kill crops, and deplete limited groundwater. Furthermore, Vietnam is still recovering from its strongest-ever drought, and every drop counts. Many of Dalat’s farmers are already suffering from water shortages.
To combat overirrigation, Tri co-founded MimosaTEK — named after the famous mimosa flower found in Dalat. The company created an internet-connected system for precision irrigation that smallholder farmers can easily use to manage irrigation levels, saving both crops and water.
I realized then that the farmers based their decisions on experiences instead of scientific data.
“The experience that helped them get by during the past is not useful anymore,” says Lan Anh Le, COO of MimosaTEK. “For farmers who still have sufficient water, they haven’t realized the issue yet and they won’t realize it until it’s too late. They are putting their whole harvest in danger. But if they apply our technology, they’ll have the information they need to change behaviors and stop wasting water.”
Tri and his team at MimosaTEK are working to transform farming in Dalat and throughout Vietnam to optimize water usage by changing individual farmers’ behavior. MimosaTEK’s system offers quick, accurate information about the weather and soil conditions, along with tailored recommendations on the best irrigation schedules. That informations allows farmers to make the most of each crop and preserve water for when it’s really needed.
The MimosaTEK system works by placing sensors in farmers’ greenhouses or fields, which measure environmental factors such as soil moisture, precipitation, air temperature, and wind speed. The sensors measure factors in real time and then recommends an irrigation schedule for the farmers. Farmers can read these recommendations through an app in their smartphones and plan their water use accordingly.
“We want to provide them with the necessary tools to make more informed decisions,” says Lan Anh Le. “The system gives them the information they need to make a timely decision and take proactive steps.”
Farmers using MimosaTEK’s system grow healthier, more robust crops with less water. Conserving water increases their income, which they can then invest back into their farms. Farmers can also activate their irrigation systems remotely through the app, saving time and giving them freedom to focus on finding buyers for their crops or spending more time with their families.
So far, MimosaTEK has installed about 100 systems in Vietnam. The company plans to expand to other agricultural provinces in the country and develop more products that change how farmers use natural resources.
“We aspire to implement technology into every farm,” says Tri. “We want to help farmers to operate sustainably and have better lives.”
USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the Government of South Africa, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands provide this innovator with funding and technical assistance through the Securing Water for Food (SWFF) Grand Challenge.