This startup is saving orchids on the brink of extinction with fog water technology

Permalution, a startup focused on fog water harvesting technology and innovation, has received support from different organizations and is now saving orchids on the brink of extinction as part of a wildfire mitigation strategy

Since the beginning of the pandemic, climate change has gained a new focus, and Permalution has been thriving through these challenging times. Priscila Casillas, Permalution’s Chief of Operations and Director for LATAM, shares some of the challenges and lessons learned so far from this magnificent project.

So, what’s new since 2020?

Permalution has received support on behalf of UNLEASH and Chemonics at the beginning of 2020. A few months later, Permalution was awarded the Catalyst Grant on behalf of the Roddenberry Foundation. With this support, they have been able to gain more traction and support for their ongoing and new projects. Permalution is now developing its R&D stage with new organizations and actors from the Canadian ecosystem.

About fog technology and saving orchids on the brink of extinction

Permalution has been developing their technology for the last couple of years, and since 2019, they have been testing and validating their solutions with the government of Mexico, in the natural protected area (NPA) Sierra de San Juan, Nayarit.

The project started as a pilot for technology validation in a remote area, and it grew afterward into a much-needed wildfire mitigation strategy for the vulnerable natural area in question.

Permalution began assessing the kind of projects that could be done with the water yields from the fog and decided it would be best to ensure the prevention and mitigation of recurrent wildfires in the area.

Why orchids?

Permalution has met with different local and global actors to assess the best strategy for wildfires in the NPA. One of the strategies was to create a greenhouse with fog irrigation in the natural protected area to reproduce and establish native plants in burned areas. After analyzing the native plants to be reestablished, it was brought to Permaluton’s attention on behalf of local biologist and forest engineers, that two particular native species of orchids: Cypripedium Irapeanum and Vanilla Pompona, were on the brink of extinction given the high rates of wildfires and the unsustainable and illegal harvest of the remaining orchids on behalf of local community members, to be sold in the market.

What challenges have been experienced since the pandemic?

Of course things have changed a lot from how we used to work because of the pandemic. Besides being apart geographically, we need to be very careful in terms of field visits, installations, meet with suppliers, partners, and every time we need to move from one place to another, which we do a lot of. This implies a slower pace in our activities and a pivot of our focus and partners for Research and Development also— Priscila Casillas, Permalution COO

What are some things you would like to share in regards to this project?

This project has been amazing to work with. It gives a feeling of fulfillment to be working to recover the native fauna of Sierra de San Juan, and give back to nature through our technology and projects.

This particular project focused on orchids through fog water has a feminine soul to it. With Permalution we have been working with the orchids and in-vitro lab experts that are also women. It is refreshing to go together to the NPA and think through our shared expertise, how to best achieve the success of this project.

We have spent extensive hours and days working in our workshop, designing and redesigning the IoT side, structures and materials of our fireproof products (our Water Radar and Fog Collector). Getting the right machinery, material samplings, suppliers, and long nights of planning and testing before the day of the visit to the field, however, it all becomes so worth it when we see our technology installed in the field, that is producing data and water yields, and we see the positive impact we are creating for the environment. This is one of the most beautiful experiences that someone could have. It is great also to see new partners wanting to genuinely add to the project and become part of it for a greater impact.

How essential do you deem the support from organizations to carry out this project?

The support received for this project has been fundamental to carry out this strategy, not only because of the money aspect of it but also because it has served to gain an increased validation with our former and new partners. It is a virtuous cycle where we are able to leverage every support provided with new support from other sources. Thanks to these organizations that believe in us, we have been able to demonstrate to the Nayarit government (Secretary of Sustainable Development, SEDESU Nayarit) and to the world, what we are capable of doing and replicate it around the world.’’

Can you share some of the main challenges of the project?

Working from afar and search for the best partners and suppliers for each part of the project has been one of the main challenges. We are very specific in choosing who we want to work with and make sure they align perfectly with our vision and values. However, the biggest challenge to come is the education aspect of the project. We will be bringing awareness through educational workshops and train-the-trainer sessions to make sure the importance of the orchids in their natural habitat is understood, and how to reproduce them at home or through our in-vitro lab, for an additional source of income, without damaging the species in the native environment.

Can you share some personal experiences from the project as well?

‘’We have spent extensive hours and days working in our workshop, designing and redesigning the IoT side and structures of our fireproof products (our Water Radar and Fog Collector). Getting the right machinery, material samplings, suppliers, and long nights of planning and testing before the day of the visit to the NPA, However, it all becomes so worth it when we see our technology installed in the field, that is producing data and water yields, and we see the positive impact we are creating for the environment. This is one of the most beautiful experiences that someone could have.

It is great also to see new partners wanting to genuinely add to the project and become part of it for a greater impact.

Lessons learned?

Sometimes we become so immersed in our every-day life, office, digital devices, that we forget what is really out there, the impact we are having on the environment and natural systems.

The importance of considering nature as a system we are part of and that we need to take of. Being in the sierra de San Juan, looking at the burned areas, the impact climate change is having right now on natural environments, and how we can actually restore this valuable biodiversity we call home, is essential to the new paradigm change.

I would like everyone to think about what is really worth our work and purpose. As human beings, we need to become aware of Nature, the importance of natural ressources, the environment, and what has real value in this world.

Technology and innovation for fog water harvesting and climate change solutions

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