Given the significance of agriculture in an emerging economy like India, it is imperative to search for alternate methods for the production of better- and high-quality agriculture yields.
Two such methods have gained traction in India in the recent past. These include
(i) Aeroponic farming and
(ii) Hydroponic farming
Both these methods don’t use soil and have different alternatives to provide nutrients to the plants.
Firstly, aeroponic farming is a soilless farming technology that allows for faster crop growth and relies less on water and other resources. Nutrients to the plants being yielded through this method of farming are provided via hanging roots. This approach is being actively used to cultivate underground tubers, particularly potatoes. This has resulted in a significant harvest for the farms and thus has witnessed several efforts to popularise this mechanism in all states of the country. Experts highlight extensive benefits accruing from this type of farming, including solving the issue of land availability and enhancing the yield of the produce. Furthermore, it uses less water, fertilizers, and amount of manual labour, instrumental in lowering agricultural costs. Additionally, farmers usually rely on breeder quality of seed for high-yield, which is in limited supply, thus, to meet the shortage of such seeds, aeroponics units can contribute to providing an uninterrupted supply of quality seeds and produce. Lastly, aeroponic methods grow plants faster than any other conventional means.
Alternatively, hydroponic farming utilises water to feed the plants with nutrients. At the bottom of such hydroponic units, water fountains are installed to submerge the roots, allowing them to grow without conventional soils. It further entails the use of artificial techniques to assist and nutrient solutions to offer plants the nutrition they require. Despite the excessive output from this technology, the initial cost to set up the infrastructure is higher than other alternatives.
The centre and state governments have made significant efforts to bring these methods to the mainstream and boost agricultural production in the country. For instance, under the initiative "Development of Commercial Horticulture through Production and Post-Harvest Management," the government gives financial assistance for hydroponic and aeroponic projects. Under this, a credit-linked back-ended subsidy of 20 per cent of the entire project cost limited to INR 25 lakh per project in general and INR 30 lakh in the Northeast, hilly, and secluded regions of the country. However, for capital-intensive and high-value crops under protected cultivation and open-air cultivation of date palm, olive, and saffron, a subsidy of 25 per cent with a ceiling of INR 50 lakh will be provided.
Moreover, the Delhi government has started training women from underprivileged communities and physically handicapped individuals in hydroponics to produce exotic vegetables such as lettuce, bok choy, parsley, rocket leaves, and fruits, among others, which are in high demand in fine-dining institutions in the Capital. The training is currently being undertaken by the Delhi transport department at a Hydroponics Horticulture Training Facility. These trainings have provided hope to many individuals who were hit adversely by the pandemic. Furthermore, these trainings have been crucial in raising the demand for exotic fruits and vegetables, in addition to providing the market with adequate supply.
As the country enters the 'Amrit Kaal', agriculture as an economic activity, as a source of employment, and as a food security mechanism becomes extremely crucial. To safeguard individuals of the country from the adverse impact of such future shocks and manage the myriad of managerial aspects in the primary sector of agriculture and eventually ensure sustainable livelihood in the country, employing alternative methods, such as aeroponics and hydroponics, to guarantee high quality and a variety of agricultural produce for domestic and global consumption remains pivotal.
This article has been co-authored by Karishma Sharma and Srijata Deb.