This interview details Orlar, an indoor farming company based in Vietnam. The interview is with Jacquie O’Hara, CEO of Orlar.
What is the origin story of Orlar?
Orlar was founded in Australia in 2014 with the question “How do we make clean food accessible to everyone?”. In developing countries, only the top 1% can afford the luxury of importing clean food but clean food should not be a luxury. Access to affordable, pesticide-free food is currently limited in South-East Asia where high amounts of synthetic chemicals are used to feed a rapidly growing population.
Having done her PhD in environmental chemistry examining the fate and transport of pesticide residues in the environment, Co-Founder, Dr. Lyndal Hugo knows intimately the scale and deadly implications of the problem.
So she and her wife, Amanda Cornelissen, a horticulturist, set out to develop and prove a different methodology for the production of temperate crops using very little energy, very little water, no synthetic chemicals, and net zero GHG emissions.
In order to demonstrate the importance of the impact that this agri-tech could have socially and environmentally, Vietnam was chosen as the first location for proving the technology, where decades of industrialization and poor agricultural practices polluted and contaminated the soil in which food is grown. So in 2017, the couple moved to Vietnam to do exactly that…
With advanced climate-smart farming technology, Orlar offers a practical solution to one of humankind’s greatest challenges – producing clean food for a growing population using minimal natural resources – in one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable regions.
Orlar creates safe, nutritious, affordable food where it’s needed most. We achieve net zero GHG emissions using very few natural resources = good for people and the planet.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing Orlar in the future?
Orlar has been built through a series of seemingly insurmountable challenges, yet we continue to go from strength to strength. Therefore we anticipate the next challenges to be relatively less daunting!
Right now we are working through creating blended funding sources to lever up the opportunities for greater impact, distributed more widely. This includes establishing regional production and export channels as well as opportunities to license our agri-tech globally. Ensuring we maintain sufficient resources to execute these dual purposes is our key challenge.
What is unique about Orlar compared to competitors?
The Orlar system was designed to maximize efficiency. To be green. It must start with design. We need to rethink everything to eliminate or minimize external costs to the environment.
For Orlar, the efficiency starts with land use efficiency – hence the vertical design – allowing us to use 90% less land in the production of temperate crops.
We use no disposable growing media so we have major labour and operating efficiency.
We maximize water efficiency and value per liter of water used, and we have zero chemical residues
Producing nutrient-dense, affordable temperate fruit & vegetables with zero chemical residues is already a major innovation in the Central Highlands (temperate zone) of Vietnam. However doing the same thing in the tropical lowlands using very little energy is a breakthrough in agricultural production, and during a global energy crisis, this is a very powerful differentiator.
How do you measure the impact of Orlar so far? (Revenue, Employees, Customer Quantity, Production Volume) etc?
The ultimate outcomes for Orlar are based on leveraging our unique agri-tech in order to create positive social and environmental impacts. As a commercial enterprise, in order to achieve those outcomes, we also measure financial performance to ensure we are building a sustainable business model, which in turn hinges on ensuring customer satisfaction with regard to product quality, taste, shelf-life, timeliness, consistency, etc.
Social metrics include the number of jobs created, % of women employed, % of ethnic minorities employed, employee retention, wage improvement compared with provincial average, training programs undertaken, kg of food rescued, etc.
Environmental metrics include zero chemical residues on 100% of tests, water use per KG, energy use per KG, waste & loss %, emissions avoided per kg of production, pollution avoidance per kg of production, etc.
Financial metrics include KG of production per SQM overall and per crop type, revenue per KG and per SQM overall and per crop type, production costs per KG, post-harvest costs per KG (packaging, transport, distribution) energy cost per KG, overhead costs per KG, profit per KG, etc.
What have you learned that you wish you knew when you joined or started the company?
Developing innovative deep-tech in an emerging economy is incredibly challenging. In hindsight, we suspect that it would have been easier and faster to develop the tech in Australia and then export it to developing countries. However, we learned through doing and have grown stronger and more resilient along the way. We discovered that proving the technology was not sufficient, we also had to prove its commercial viability, so having successfully started growing produce we had to work out how to get it to market. In order to do that, we had to build a brand, a logistics chain, a distribution center, employ and train ~50 local women and men and continue expanding our capacity to increase production volumes when we discovered just how much demand there is for clean, affordable produce in a single market…
And then of course, having achieved all of that with a strong reputation, we have reached the point where it is time to scale up and get this important technology to where it is needed.
How can people connect with you or learn more about Orlar?
People can find us online at www.Orlar.com as well as follow our progress at esg.Orlar.com where we are building a real-time dashboard (currently in beta mode) of our key production metrics, and social and environmental impacts.
Additionally, we can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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