A group of students from the Federal Institute of Science and Technology (FISAT), Ernakulam, have developed a nutrition formula in hydroponics farming that gives three times more yield with lesser intake of water and fertilisers.
The project was initiated in 2019 under the leadership of three assistant professors – Mahesh C, Bejoy Varghese and Rajesh TR. They continued experimenting even when the pandemic hit by arranging a small farm at their own houses. Today, the team grows multiple varieties of vegetables in 1.5 acres of leased land near the campus.
As part of a central government project called E-yantra Farm Setup Initiative (EFSI), the team began experimenting based on the topic ‘application of robotics in agriculture’ with the support of IIT Bombay. “We got a well-equipped lab in the year 2017 and conducted many successful experiments regarding smart agriculture concepts. The idea of hydroponics farming, which is prevalent in America and European countries, struck us two years later,” says Bejoy, assistant professor, department of electronics and communication engineering.
The basic principle of hydroponics farming is maximum production from minimum space and raw materials. In this regard, the engineering students and teachers are trying to help farmers attain better yield thereby finding a solution to feed the growing population of Kerala without depending on other states.
“Almost all districts of Kerala are vastly populated and there is no hope of finding more land for farming purposes. All we could do is to increase production from existing areas without harming the soil and by prioritising the health of consumers by using organic fertilisers only. Employing the hydroponics method will definitely contribute to that cause,” explains Mahesh, assistant professor, department of computer science engineering.
Their farming experiment was successful with leafy vegetables like cabbage/ cauliflower, vine crops like cucumber/ tomato/ brinjal, rooty vegetables like radish/ turnip/ potato and even medicinal plants like brahmi/ vetiver.
All of them were grown using organic fertilisers and just 10 per cent of water as compared to regular cultivation.
The fertilisers were transported via food grade pipes directly into the plants which ensure minimal usage. In more technical words, it is a programmable nutrient injection that differs for each variety of crop.
Technology in Agriculture
According to the professors, farmers can be broadly classified into two groups. First, the ones who stick to traditional techniques, which don’t harm the environment or human health but won’t provide a stable income for them. Second, are the ones who largely use chemical fertilisers to multiply the yield which adversely affects the health of soil and consumers.
“By employing hydroponics, both these issues can be effectively solved,” says Bejoy. “Even though the technique is popular and successful in many parts of the world, our farmers haven’t come forward mostly due to the high initial investment. We worked on that by developing a nutrition formula ideal for the climatic conditions and soil type of Kerala,” he adds.
The cost of setting up this technology is usually high but the FISAT team’s nutrition formula will need much less investment, they claim. “The cost will depend upon the variety of produce and available space,” shares Bejoy, who is the team head.
Ardra Saji, a final year electrical and electronics student and an active member of the team, says, “There are 20 students involved in the research, development and implementation of this method. We are planning to split into groups to provide training to interested farmers. The installation requires basic technical knowledge which can easily be gained through such training.”
Bejoy warns that if done without proper guidance and training, the method will adversely affect farming. He says that many YouTube videos are describing this method of farming where they use PVC pipes to transport fertilisers. “It will have serious consequences, not for the plant, but our health.”
“Many farmers have already approached us by seeing our yield from the past two years. It’d be the best practical experience for students to train them. Implementing technology in daily activities to make life easier, that’s what we engineers thrive for,” says the proud teacher.
Ardra adds, “We look for tech except in agriculture and it’s high time we change this perspective. We are all set to popularise this technology among local farmers and employ them in our homes too.”
The team including 17 students from the e-yantra project and 21 students from the IEEE SIGHT (Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology) team are now preparing to harvest their fourth set of yields in a few days.
Edited by Yoshita Rao