Team's efforts to grow produce using green, sustainable methods paying off

Victor Lo at the aquaponics farm he set up with two friends in Jiangmen, Guangdong province. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

With spring approaching, Victor Lo, a young man from Hong Kong, starts work at 5 am every day on his farm on the mainland.

During his undergraduate years at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Lo tended to a 20-square-meter vegetable garden in front of his dormitory out of an interest in agriculture.

Since then, a dream of pursuing more environmentally friendly and sustainable production has been growing in his heart. Despite majoring in business administration, Lo made the bold decision with two friends in 2016 to set up a farm in Jiangmen, Guangdong province.

Over the past six years, he has installed an aquaponics system with independent intellectual property rights that produces up to 1,000 metric tons of vegetables and 500 tons of rice each year for buyers in Hong Kong and Guangdong.

Aquaponics refers to the combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the growing of plants without soil).

Fish manure is used as fertilizer for growing vegetables, while vegetable roots help purify pond water. In this way, chemical fertilizers and pesticides are not needed.

This environmentally friendly, sustainable production method that is growing in popularity around the world can help create a natural ecosystem and boost traditional farming efficiency.

Lo (right) and one of the farm's co-founders (left) receive two inspectors from the local government at the farm. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

As there were no aquaponics farms in Guangdong, the team's work was initially based on data methods they learned from farms overseas.

The initial results were a far cry from expectations.

The trio conducted frequent analyses of local soil conditions and climates. After significant research over the course of three years, they were able to accumulate a great deal of data related to aquaponics in the environment of southern China.

The region-specific approaches developed by the team increased annual output by 206 percent and cut variable costs by 83 percent, greatly improving the results seen from copying techniques used in different environments elsewhere in the world. "Agricultural technology must be pragmatic, durable and cost-efficient," Lo said.

They now manage a 300,000-sq-m farm in Jiangmen and first turned a profit in 2020, producing 1,000 tons of vegetables and about 475 tons of rice annually.

Their farm has also been officially designated as a vegetable production center for Hong Kong and Macao.

Along the way, they have endured challenges. On one occasion, a typhoon caused severe damage to the farm, and later, COVID-19 epidemic controls made it impossible to sell produce to Hong Kong. But Lo was steadfast in his determination to pursue his dream.

"I feel a great sense of accomplishment, because now we sell green, high-quality staples to many people," Lo said, adding that he is very proud to be a modern farmer.

Vegetables grow in the farm's greenhouse. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

He said that people should develop a better understanding of what country life and the agricultural industry are like these days.

"A few of my friends laughed at me at first for throwing myself into farming, but their attitudes are gradually changing now," Lo said. "Some villages on the mainland are very clean and beautiful, and offer all kinds of leisure activities. I can live a comfortable and healthy life here."

More importantly, he believes the rural market offers great potential for development, especially as China now attaches great importance to rural vitalization.

In this year's No 1 Central Document, which was released last month, central authorities highlighted this development and pledged to advance the national strategy of rural vitalization and accelerate modernization in the countryside.

The guideline called on authorities to advance rural development, construction and governance, to speed up China's transition to a global agricultural powerhouse and to turn the countryside into a more harmonious and beautiful place to inhabit.

Looking ahead, the team has plans to set up an agricultural park and create a brand.

"Our current business model is wholesale, and it generates a relatively low profit," he said. "Aquaponically grown food is green and sustainable and could be turned into a unique brand."