Solution Overview

Solution Name:

Saline Agriculture Innovation Hub

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One-line solution summary:

We are bringing together microalgae and halophyte farming to create a zero-waste farming system with saline water.

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Pitch your solution.

Changes in hydrology, rising seas, and irresponsible use of resources are accelerating the degradation of fertile lands in Vietnam's Mekong River Delta. 

One of the most significant threats is the increase in saline water intrusion and degradation of fertile land from salt water. Major droughts in 2016 and 2020 caused considerable harm to rural communities and are expected to become more frequent in coming years.

Together with the microalgae producer Sol Agron, Seawater Solutions is developing an innovation center to develop new techniques which farmers can use to adapt to saline conditions. 

Strategies include: 

  1. Cultivation of high value salt tolerant plants and microalgae.
  2. New product varieties for saline water crops and markets for them.
  3. Production with a zero-waste system which rehabilitates saline soils.

The location of this hub, within the salinized region of the Mekong Delta, presents a unique opportunity to demonstrate these new strategies to affected farmers.


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Film your elevator pitch.

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What specific problem are you solving?

Vietnam’s Mekong Delta is expected to be one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to sea level rise. The dry season of 2016 and 2020 saw historic levels of salinity intrusion. Where up to 140,000ha of farmland was damaged by salinity intrusion and tens of thousands of households lacked access to fresh water.

The issue is so severe that climate projections estimate by 2050 more than 31 million people in this region will live below high-tide lines, and large portions of agricultural land will be unusable (Kulp 2019).For these reasons, Moody’s Investors Service estimates that assets worth 10% of Vietnam’s GDP are ‘exposed’ to the effects of sea-level rise, making Vietnam one of the world’s most vulnerable nations (Saigoneer 2020)

Construction of intrusion barriers and brackish water aquaculture are the most common adaptation measures. However, complexity of the delta's waterways mean sluice gates are not always able to protect against incoming salt water. While the capital-intensive nature of aquaculture makes it inaccessible to many households living in affected regions. A wider variety of economic opportunities must be developed to help members of these vulnerable communities adapt to the environmental changes that will come in the near future.

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What is your solution?

Microalgae and halophyte vegetable farming are two developing sectors which use salt water to produce valuable commodities.

Microalgae are microscopic organisms living in salt water which, using sunlight, CO2, and nutrients, to produce lipids, proteins and other valuable products, used in the aquafeed sector, pharmaceuticals, and biofuels. Microalgae production discharges ~2000-5000L  waste saline water per day. Halophytes are naturally salt tolerant plants that survive in saline soils and can be irrigated with saline water. Produce is rich in nutrients and can be marketed as fresh vegetables, or used in animal feeds, nutrient supplements or pharmaceuticals. 

We aim to integrate microalgae and halophyte farming by using saline wastewater discharged from microalgae production to irrigate halophyte vegetable crops. The result is a zero-waste system creating two valuable agricultural commodities with saline water.

This site will be a testing center for multiple plant species and techniques used in saline environments which can be marketed, demonstrated to farmers in the surrounding area, and applied in other salinity affected regions around the world.  

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Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

The Mekong Delta is home to 21 million people, where 1/5th of the population depend on fishing and agriculture as their main livelihood. During major salinization events, such as one in the dry season of 2016, 35% of the Mekong Delta region (340,000ha) was inundated with saline water. Affecting 225,000 households. Another drought in the dry season of 2020 led to loss of 41,900ha and rendered 600,000 people with no access to fresh water. This means during the dry season (from January to May) farmers in affected regions have limited access to fresh water, where crops are often damaged by saline water. In the most heavily affected regions, the only fresh water available is imported and sold for 8 Euros per meter cubed. This is a significant constraint to their income over a large portion of the year.

Since the start of 2020, Seawater Solutions has been designing systems capable of cultivating naturally salt tolerant vegetables which can be set up using locally available materials. We use infertile land owned by farmers, treat the soil with compost, lime, irrigation, and probiotics, and grow salt tolerant crops. We also use wastewater from shrimp production which provides an abundance of organic fertilizers. 

By seeing the system work on their land, farmers buy-in to our approach and learn how to grow our crops. Besides that, the farmers often contribute their own strategies to help make our cultivation techniques better. So far we have produced six cultivation cycles in this manner. 

Farmers can grow crops in previously uncultivable land where Seawater Solutions provides seeds and a buyback scheme. This way is not only increasing the income for farmers during the dry season but also reduces demand for limited freshwater resources.

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Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Create scalable economic opportunities for local communities, including fishing, timber, tourism, and regenerative agriculture, that are aligned with thriving and biodiverse ecosystems
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Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.

Vietnam was ranked 16th most biodiverse country in the world by the UNEP in 2020. However, economic development has brought about staggering declines in biodiversity.

We aim to begin healing this broken relationship with nature by combining preservation of biodiverse ecosystems and bringing economic value from forgotten species to solve the problems of the future. Already, Seawater Solutions has found 15 halophyte species native to Vietnam with known economic value. 

We can maintain livelihoods in rural communities and help adapt to the rapidly changing climate by creating markets for salt-tolerant species which are more suitable to conditions of the future.

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In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Long Sơn, Cầu Ngang, Tra Vinh, Vietnam
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What is your solution’s stage of development?

Prototype: A venture or organization building and testing its product, service, or business model.
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Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.

Our Vietnam team is operating cultivation trials with Salicornia bigelovii, S. europea, Suaeda maritima, and Salsola suaeda on three separate sites owned by small-scale farmers and a corporate multinational aquafeed producer. 

Here Seawater Solutions tested the seed, equipment provision, and consultancy model with partnering farmers, and agreed to expand these sites by next dry season. The team has hosted two events to introduce new dishes using the products grown at these sites. 

Sol Agron is a microalgae producer based in Vietnam Mekong Delta region , which seeks to develop this approach as a wastewater treatment method. Besides that, they allow us to use the large amount of unused land at this site to test a wider range of species and cultivation strategies. Wastewater removal strategies developed here will be disseminated  among aquaculture sites and other Seawater Solutions' other waste treatment projects. 

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Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Founder: Yanik Nyberg; Author: Nick Shell

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More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology
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What makes your solution innovative?

Saline inundated land and waterways are largely considered infertile among rural communities. The range of crops and livelihood opportunities which can be produced in these regions is extremely limited.

Our intention is to begin reversing that trend by demonstrating ways valuable agricultural commodities can be produced using degraded salinized land, and creating new market opportunities for these commodities.

Unlike the most widely adopted adaptation measure – shrimp and fish agriculture – these strategies are designed to be accessible to lower income farmers which are also more environmentally sustainable by remediating waste and requiring fewer inputs. 

Finally, this will be the world's first agriculture system to integrate microalgae with halophyte farming.

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Ancestral Technology & Practices
  • Biotechnology / Bioengineering
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Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Rural
  • Poor
  • Low-Income
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In which countries do you currently operate?

  • Ghana
  • Malawi
  • Namibia
  • United Kingdom
  • Vietnam
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 1. No Poverty
  • 2. Zero Hunger
  • 6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  • 7. Affordable and Clean Energy
  • 12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  • 13. Climate Action
  • 15. Life on Land
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In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • Ghana
  • Malawi
  • Namibia
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom
  • Vietnam
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How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

Seawater Solutions is currently cultivating halophytes on four different sites with four separate farmers in three provinces throughout the Mekong Delta.

By 2022 next year, we plan to expand the production area to at least 5,000 meters squared . 

If the average farm area is 500 meters squared then that will be at least 10 farmers in separate sites spread across the Mekong Delta.

If cultivation can be demonstrated properly among these 10 farmers, then expansion in 2023 can range anywhere from 10ha to hundreds, with multitudes of farmers benefiting. All this depends on whether we can successfully demonstrate the feasibility of growing vegetables and microalgae with salt water, and whether we can successfully develop new market outlets for them.

The district where the Sol Agron microalgae facility is located and the surrounding provinces is in the epicenter of shrimp and brackish water farming of Vietnam - also where freshwater is limited for even daily use during the peak of the dry season.

Demonstrating ways value can be generated with saline water in their own communities is the best way to engage farmers in the new initiative.

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How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

Our tangible impact indicators are land area and number of partnering farmers. 

By the end of 2021, we aim to establish 1,000 meters squared of cultivation area both in collaboration with Sol Agron and among other commercial farms. By the end of 2022 we aim to expand to 5,000 meters squared, partnering with at least 10 commercial farms. 

Achievement of our goals will also be determined by the number of halophyte species we can create profitable markets for, and how many partnering farmers can profit from our buyback scheme. 

Success of our genetic and ecosystem preservation initiatives will be determined by the array of species we preserve in our seed bank and area of our conservation and reforestation initiatives.

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About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Hybrid of for-profit and nonprofit

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How many people work on your solution team?

Seawater Solutions has 8 full-time staff. 

Our Vietnam team has three full time staff. 

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How long have you been working on your solution?

Seawater Solutions was founded in 2017, its aquaculture and wastewater initiative began in 2020.

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How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

Seawater Solutions has a young and diverse team operating projects in Scotland, Ghana, Malawi, Spain, and Namibia. The founder, Yanik Nyberg, is familiar with all aspects of the business - from farming Salicornia to developing the organization as a multinational entity. The Vietnam team is also uniquely qualified to establish the halophyte farming sector in Vietnam.

The project manager, Nick Shell, is a US citizen who has lived in Vietnam since 2004. His background in marine biology, aquaculture, and time spent working as a commercial shrimp farmer gives him a unique perspective on the challenges facing the sector. Nick, as a shrimp farmer, began cultivating Salicornia using wastewater from his shrimp farms before joining Seawater Solutions full time as project manager.

Head technician, Vy Nguyen, grew up in one of the salinity inundated regions of the Mekong Delta. During a severe drought in 2020, Vy's own household suffered from lack of fresh water, and her experience in plant breeding and biology makes her uniquely qualified to carry out salinity tolerance trials with many plant species.

Head farm manager, Nhut Nguyen, was a real estate broker. However, his desire to bring economic opportunities to his rural hometown in Ca Mau province - a once thriving hub of shrimp aquaculture - led him to invest fully into agriculture. Nhut has quickly learned how to cultivate halophyte crops, and his plot of land just outside of Ho Chi Minh City is where Seawater Solutions is testing many of its new initiatives.

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What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership team?

Nationality Diversity

Seawater Solutions team includes a long list of nationalities, including the UK, US, Vietnam, Ghana, and Spain.

Economic diversity

The team includes a mixture of expatriates and locals in all our projects who bring both new perspectives and local insights to our activities.

Gender diversity

Both men and women play leading roles in both Seawater Solutions and Sol Agron.  

Improving gender diversity is one of the key objectives of our upcoming USAID project, not only in our own workforce, but among the farmers we partner with. To address this initiative: 

Data collected on households and farm partners will be gender disaggregated

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Your Business Model & Partnerships

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
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Partnership & Prize Funding Opportunities

Why are you applying to Solve?

We first learned about the MIT Solve initiative last year and submitted an application. Although we were not successful, our concept has developed by leaps and bounds since then and we have built strong partnerships with government and commercial organizations. 

Our main motivation for applying for MIT solve is to join the network of other solver groups and impact investors which can bring new ideas to our initiative. We've come up with an innovative concept and have strong technical skills; however, finance management, logistics, and administration are weaknesses where we seek improvement through the MIT solve program. 

We also want to share the results of our initiative as it progresses to other important stakeholders in the climate resilience field, and MIT Solve can give us exposure to those players. 

Finally, financial rewards granted through the MIT Solve program can bring us closer to our goal of raising 30,000USD to meet our expansion objectives.   

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Business model (e.g. product-market fit, strategy & development)
  • Financial (e.g. improving accounting practices, pitching to investors)
  • Public Relations (e.g. branding/marketing strategy, social and global media)
  • Product / Service Distribution (e.g. expanding client base)
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Please explain in more detail here.

We have an exciting new product and concept to offer, but can use advice in finance management, sales, and branding to maximize the value of our initiative. Our business plan is somewhat complex as it involves two layers of customers (independent farmers and end-users), so we can use advice on methods to ensure value is distributed fairly among our clients. Also better ways to manage partnerships with farms with regard to quality control and buyback schemes. 

Being one of the first organizations to cultivate salt tolerant crops has brought considerable publicity. Our challenge is to maintain interest in our work through branding, public relations, and social media management. 

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What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?

We hope to partners with organizations that have interest in developing cutting edge climate change adaptation strategies. While we're already working with most members of the halophyte community, we aim to partner with partners who can help develop products for industry such as aquafeed producers, biochemical, and pharmaceutical groups. This can expand the range of market opportunities for the range of saline water derived products we are developing.

We also seek to work with other industry partners aiming to develop halophyte and microalgae culture as a wastewater treatment strategy. We have been approached by organizations, including desalinization plants and shrimp farms, interested in working with us to improve their wastewater treatment capacity. This is an exciting - potentially profitable - opportunity for us which we are developing with Sol Agron, but hope to make applicable to a wider range of environments around the world.  




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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The Andan Prize for Innovation in Refugee Inclusion? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The GM Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The GM Prize to advance your solution?

Although we have not budgeted for it, we aim to collaborate with Tra Vinh University and other academic institutions in the Mekong Delta to host practical activities for students. These activities include: 

  • Field surveys for native halophyte plants with commercial potential 
  • Seed viability tests and preservation
  • Salinity tolerance tests for germination and growth of various plant species 
  • Cultivation trials in different system types, particularly in aquaponic and hydroponic systems
  • Microalgae isolation and preservation
  • Monitoring soil and water quality during halophyte and microalgae cultivation to assess impact on soil health and nutrient removal capabilities
  • Aquaculture feed trials with various feed formulas using halophyte and microalgae derived ingredients. 

These are a few of many opportunities we can provide for students to gain practical skills in research and analysis within their own communities. 

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Innovation for Women Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Minderoo Prize to End Global Overfishing? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The ServiceNow Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The ServiceNow Prize to advance your solution?

Seawater Solutions recently launched the Blue Green Carbon initiative, which aims to use salt-marsh ecosystem restoration as a carbon capture strategy. Ecosystem restoration is a key focus of our other projects in Ghana and Malawi where we are actively replanting mangroves and other salt tolerant plants.

Halophyte cultivation and microalgae are carbon sinks which we also aim to better quantify and expand. 

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The AI for Humanity Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The GSR Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The GSR Prize Prize to advance your solution?

Our initiative provides an array of practical opportunities for students from local academic institutions. These activities include: 

  • Field surveys for native halophyte plants with commercial potential 
  • Seed viability tests and preservation
  • Salinity tolerance tests for germination and growth of various plant species 
  • Cultivation trials in different system types, particularly in aquaponic and hydroponic systems
  • Microalgae isolation and preservation
  • Monitoring soil and water quality during halophyte and microalgae cultivation to assess impact on soil health and nutrient removal capabilities
  • Aquaculture feed trials with various feed formulas using halophyte and microalgae derived ingredients. 

These are a few of many opportunities we can provide for students to gain practical skills in research and analysis within their own communities. 

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Solution Team

 
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