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Hydroponic Farming for India

India has been the leading producer and supplier of agricultural products for the world for decades. From being a food-insecure country at independence, we have journeyed towards not just food security but surplus farm produce availability after the massive success of the green revolution.

With climate change becoming a prime concern for the world alongside other contemporary world environmental issues and the Indian government’s mission to dramatically increase the incomes of our farmers, we are presented with yet another opportunity for a revolution. And this revolution can come in the form of hydroponic farming for not just agricultural communities but also urban dwellers struggling in the relatively worse-off environment situation in the cities.

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Hydroponics is a contemporary method of horticulture or growing plants, usually farm produce, without using soil. In this method, the crops are grown on water, rich in essential micro and macronutrients. According to studies, plants grown hydroponically grow faster and healthier than plants in the soil, since they are provided nutrients directly to their roots through the water in the form of an aqueous solvent, and not through the soil.1

With land being limited and a rising population in need of proper housing facilities, a method of farm production that enables production without land use can be of great value for India where agriculture still serves as a primary livelihood source for a majority of citizens. Hydroponics was a successful technique used to supply fresh vegetables for troops in Wake Island and has been considered as the future farming to grow foods for astronauts in space by NASA.2

Hydroponics enables urban farming in the sense that it can be used to cultivate plants on roofs and even in bedrooms. Hydroponics roots are immersed in a tank full of oxygenated nutrient solutions and are in direct contact with vital minerals which also means that one can grow your plants closer together, saving space in the rather tightly developed city houses. These plants can be a solution to the long-standing pollution issue in urban localities that is a by-product of development in a lot of situations. This is not to say that pollution, even caused by developmental activities, should be encouraged but to ensure that development moves in parallel to the environment.

In a situation where farmers are dependent on soil fertility and thus, cannot produce crops throughout the year, the hydroponic technique offers a way to ensure all-year-round cultivation, enabling higher farm incomes. Because water is recirculated in this method, plants produced hydroponically can also use 10 per cent less water than plants grown in the field.3 This is to state that the technique does not exploit the environment for higher economic gains but uses scientific methods to create a win-win situation.

Several startups in India are using this technique to produce organic food in the obvious lack of land availability considering the expense of buying a large piece of land for business. These are startups that are also helping urban inhabitants build urban gardens in limited spaces. Leveraging technology to grow high-quality, low-cost vegetables for the masses while promoting a healthier way of living, Eeki Foods is a venture by IIT alumni that provides nutritious and residue-free vegetables at affordable prices all year round.4 A wholesale hydroponic, organic gardening and wellness product distribution company, with a focus on integrating sustainable and moral concepts into a modern economic model, Acqua Farms is helping urban Indians grow their own food using the limited material available for farming activities in an urban setting.5

As more startups are sure to come into the hydroponics space. Urban farming will pick pace in India and indeed around the world. What is needed is for rural agriculture, the primary agriculture, to also make use of this method that does not require high-end technology or otherwise heavy monetary investment but provides environmental as well as economic benefits. The country which has been feeding the world, not just in the way of exports but in the sense that India makes 1/6th of the world, should garb on to this innovation for the collective benefit of the world.

This blog has been authored by Karishma Sharma.