The concept of Hydroponic farming is common abroad but new to India. In India, Goa has become the first State in India to start a hydroponic farm. This small State stole the show by kick starting India’s first hydroponic farm - Letcetra Agritech Private Limited on November 16, 2016 - thanks to an enterprising software engineer turned entrepreneur Ajay Naik who boasts to be a proud hi-tech farmer now, says Bharati Pawaskar
Little Simran is not fond of cooked leafy vegetables but loves green salads and can eat any amount of tomatoes and cucumbers. But her mother is reluctant to buy the locally available farm produce as she believes that it is highly contaminated with pesticides. Such scenario is common in every home. People are scared to eat even farm fresh produce in the fear of pesticides. But organically grown fruits and vegetables are rare and expensive. So what should one eat? Luckily, there is a trustworthy solution to this problem - Hydroponic farming. It is the most appropriate solution to have pesticide free, healthy farm produce which is, in addition, full of nutrients.
Let’s get acquainted with the term. In hydroponic farming, quality vegetables and fruits are grown in mineral water that’s full of added nutrients and hence contain all the necessary vitamins needed for the healthy growth of the bones and tissues in our body. Hydroponic farming is a soil-free technique of growing fruits and vegetables in a controlled atmosphere which nullifies the chance of contamination to zero.
“Today’s health conscious generation is very much aware of the side effects of contaminated food. Hence, looking at the bright prospects of hydroponic farming in the State we have chalked out ambitious expansion plans in the near future,” admits Ajay, founder and CEO, Letcetra Agritech.
Ajay who is opening his second outlet in South Goa in April 2017 after the successful launch of his first in North Goa in November 2016, briefs, “We grow three tons of lettuce monthly at Mapusa in a vertical space of 150 sqmts on a multi-tier rail system in artificial light and without soil. In one cubic metre indoor area one can grow 78 kilos of leafy vegetables per year in multiple levels.”
The brainchild of this 32-year-old Indian, Letcetra Agritech is an indoor farm at Karaswada in Mapusa operating from a storehouse with the help of LED lights. “There is no need of natural sunlight for this soilless farming which is done with the help of mineral water that can be recycled and reused, thus saving a lot of it. Traditional farming requires soil as well as water, both. Here, we do away with both. And most importantly, we do not use pesticides,” vouches Ajay.
Indeed, it’s an inspirational story of a technology savvy software engineer who wishes to grow pesticide-free vegetables and fruits in a controlled atmosphere and thus aid in offering healthy produce to the public. With a great understanding of market, Ajay with his out-of-the box thinking has dared to venture in hydroponics where he produces Lettuce, Romaine, Lollo Green, Oak Leaf, Rocket, Marvel of Four Seasons, Cherry Tomatoes, Allapinos, etc.
“Currently I am experimenting in strawberries. If it is successful, Goa will have strawberries throughout the year. Since the water content is high in hydroponic produce whatever is produced tastes better. The quality and colour also is better,” he explains.
Five star hotels also have shown interest in Ajay’s technology. Many of the five star hotels prefer buying locally produced exotic vegetables as they come cheaper than imported ones. Kitchen gardeners and commercial farmers also are interested to adopt Ajay’s technology. Having found an assured market Ajay is setting his second farm in Goa.
“Our second farm will be a greenhouse in South Goa, the costs of which would be lower as here natural resources like sunlight will replace LED,” states Ajay who uses imported seeds while water and coco peat are procured locally. His air conditioned farm maintains the temperature at 22 degree C and less than 65 per cent humidity and similar atmosphere can be created in poly houses/greenhouses too at a lesser cost. Ajay is willing to offer guidance to enthusiasts to set up their own farms.
“We will train them to run their farm. I want to convey this message to one and all that all of us can grow our own food in our small space,” smiles Ajay. He feels that investing in agriculture can be profitable and benefiting as in India land and resources are ample. However he expresses concern that in India around 8 lakh hectares of land is converted to commercial use. “It’s lost forever. This is alarming,” he says.
A balance must be maintained between the production of food and population. India needs to produce more food to feed each mouth. The government has made a budget provision in the budget for agriculture (which is currently 11-12 per cent) to take it to 30 per cent in the near future. Looking at the bigger picture, one has to go back to his roots, in a modern way, embracing technology for the betterment of all. Growing indigenously will reduce the carbon footprint too. Healthy food will keep people healthy. Food that is healthy and low in calories but at the same time rich in nutrients, is the demand of the day.
In hydroponic farming there is 30-45 days life cycle. Letcetra farm has 13 feet height. One can have more or less. The water is purified before adding nutrients to it. In the absence of soil, there can be no bacteria. The equipment is sterilised before using to avoid contamination. It’s an option for those who want to avoid consuming pesticide ridden fruits and vegetables.
How did Ajay grab the idea? “I am a foodie who loved tasting different cuisines. But over the years I saw a drop in the quality and taste in the same food items which tasted better some years ago. Why did this happen? I studied and realised that this is because the quality of the ingredients and raw material has dropped drastically. This may be due to various reasons - for example, overuse of pesticides. Taking this seriously, I thought why not use technology to enhance the quality of the food production? Better yield will surely enhance the taste of the food,” states Ajay.
Hydroponic will help in growing food for home and domestic consumption as well as for export. Growing vegetables and fruits in a controlled atmosphere allows the maintenance of quality which is a must to meet international standards and guidelines. “We can easily achieve this. We are blessed with excellent weather conditions in India with plenty of sunlight available. Why not tap these natural resources to grow our own food?” he asks.
Hydroponic farming will boost the economy as it will not only create self-employment but generate jobs for others too. It certainly nurtures a positive feeling when one sees all greens around, especially in a world ruled by machines.
from IT engineer to entrepreneur to farmer
Ajay Naik worked as a software engineer for five years in Goa. Then he initiated a company that developed several successful Apps - including two highly popular ones - Bible Inspiration and Geeta Inspiration that offered a quote a day and catered to three lakh users. The App was free. It offered quotes for 25 types of moods. Each emotion had a suitable quote to create positivity in people in their difficult times. The response was overwhelming. There were more global clients than Indians. He sold the company in 2015 after getting a good offer (one million Euros) from a German buyer. After setting up a home automation company for a brief period, Ajay finally chose to return to roots and be a farmer.