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Smart farming a bright future for Việt Nam

Update: March, 20/2016 - 09:00
Just plain good: Tomatoes are planted at an IT-based agricultural project conducted by Fujitsu Limited and FPT Corporation. The project aims contribute to stable production and higher product quality. Photo hanoimoi.com.vn

by Minh Thu – Bích Hồng

Ready-to-eat tomatoes, and lettuce, grown without soil, and consumed unwashed, are the future in Việt Nam and people will soon have the chance to experience this form of ‘smart agriculture’.

This year, this IT-based agricultural project will experiment on growing high-value-added vegetables including medium-sized tomatoes and low-potassium leaf lettuce that will be the source of clean, ready-to-eat food.

The potassium content in this kind of lettuce is one-fifth as compared with lettuce grown in any ordinary way making it suitable for diabetics and people who are on a diet.

Under the agreement between Fujitsu Limited and FPT Corporation signed in 2014, Fujitsu provided cloud services, equipment, and expertise, and FPT facilitated the spread of information technology in the agricultural sector.

A 400sq.m centre, comprising a greenhouse to cultivate tomatoes and a vegetable factory to grow lettuce, was set up at the Fruit and Vegetable Research Institute in Trâu Quỳ Town, Gia Lâm District, Hà Nội.

“The showcase environment information and video information about the cultivation area can be monitored, not only onsite, but from Japan as well, enabling remote cultivation guidance,” Trương Gia Bình, CEO of the FPT Corporation, said.

The area is self-contained and yellow electric boards are set up between the beds of vegetables that help control the cultivation and prevent entry of insects.

Environmental information, including temperature, humidity, CO2, sunlight, and rain, in addition to wind direction and speed, is gathered in real time by a variety of sensors installed in the greenhouse, and this information is used to autonomously control the facilities, such as curtains and fans.

This facility is combined with IMEC Film Farming, in which plants are grown on a thin film, using a hydrogel membrane.

Since the film allows only water and nutrients to pass, and keeps out viruses and microbes, the crops grown are safe for consumption. In addition, because plants receive optimal water stress by absorbing nutrients through the hydrogel membrane, they create a higher volume of sugars and amino acids, creating crops with high sugar content and high nutritional value.

That is why one will be able to consume fresh vegetables cut from the branches without washing them.

With this technology, tomatoes are planted with a density of between 4,000 plants and 6,000 plants in 1,000 square metres. And the cultivation can take place all year long, without being dependent on the seasons and the weather.

“In Việt Nam, there are calls to develop agricultural businesses to ensure food safety by promoting innovation in agricultural production technologies and in recognition of the issue of pesticide overuse,” Bình said.

“The aim of this partnership is to support restructuring of Việt Nam’s agricultural sector so as to make the country a world-class agricultural producer based on innovative technologies.”

Accordingly, this innovative food and agriculture will contribute to stable production volumes and higher product quality, which would otherwise depend on the expert judgment of farmers, he added.

High potential

Bình appreciated the high potential of the project, but he also expressed concern at the obstacles while implementing the Japanese technique in Việt Nam.

“Fujitsu and FPT are leading information technology corporations of Japan and Việt Nam, but we faced numerous difficulties in establishing the smart agriculture centre such as the procedure to import technology from abroad,” Bình said.

“We have only borrowed the technology from Japan, and Vietnamese enterprises should now learn to master it,” he cautioned.

He suggested that the enterprises which want to get involved in this form of smart agriculture should meet to study and understand the technology.

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Đức Phát agreed that Việt Nam’s agricultural sector is looking for foreign and domestic investors, especially those using advanced technology. He highlighted the fact that applying advanced technology to farming will help the country set up modern agricultural techniques with highly competitive capacity.

“However, the procedure to import chains and devices to produce takes much more time,” he said. The government policy requires management agencies to streamline procedures such as customs procedures for import of materials and farm produce.”

Phát said at the opening ceremony of the FPT-Fujitsu centre that the centre is considered a good model to boost hi-tech agricultural growth in Việt Nam.

The agriculture ministry has assigned plant protection and husbandry departments to cut by half the time and cost of import procedures. 

Phát hoped that many more local and foreign investors will join the sector and support farmers to apply advanced technology to increase yields and turn out quality produce for sale at home and abroad. 

Đặng Văn Đông, vice director of the Fruit and Vegetable Research Institute, indicated that facilities to implement high-tech agriculture are taxed between 15 per cent and 20 per cent. He expected the government to apply new mechanism to create a viable environment for enterprises who want to invest in agriculture like the ones investing in industry.

“The FPT-Fujitsu project has the potential to develop Vietnamese agriculture in such a modern way that the people would only benefit from it,” he said.

“In my opinion, both sides need innovation in implementing the next stage of the project to fit with Vietnamese socio-economic and ecological conditions,” he said.

“The enterprises may face obstacles in the beginning of the project, but, I believe that in the near future they would help Vietnamese agriculture become smarter and more developed.”   

Regarding the next stage of the project, Nguyễn Lan Anh, media officer of the FPT Corporation, said the technicians have been experimenting with growing soybeans on IMEC film and would try with other plants after the one-year trial project. However, the details and result of the process should be discussed among two partners before being announced. VNS

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