Asia’s new agricultural revolution: Planting a high-tech future

Pham Thi Huong went from the backbreaking job of coaxing coffee out of Vietnam’s central highlands to an inconceivable one: growing strawberries on rocks.

Huong and her husband threw in the shovel on their days of toil at the mercy of volatile commodity prices in 2019 and joined vertical agriculture company Orlar. Now they work together at a greenhouse where connected white pillars line up like library stacks, each one holding rocks on top of rocks.

The rocks are treated with a patented mix of microbes to sustain plant life. Romaine lettuce, basil, bok choy, and flowers burst from the stones.

“I was so surprised, seeing this for the first time,” Huong said over a patchy line from her mountainous farm town. “I thought, with technology like this, we can develop more,” Huong added, noting a further bonus: using far fewer chemicals than in traditional agriculture.

Huong’s move is part of an expanding agricultural revolution in Asia that aims to feed a ballooning population against a backdrop of formidable problems. The intimidating list includes food inflation, climate change, accessibility issues, supply chain disruptions, urban migration, aging societies, and severe hunger.

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