INDIAN SOILLESS FARMING INDUSTRY
Our experience with hydroponics & aquaponics consultants
Chinmay Rajwade, Co-founder, FARMVARY
It was a couple years ago when we were beginners in the hydroponics farming, we did not know what coco-peat was back then, and the only thought flashed in our mind when we thought about hydroponics was ‘this is miracle and it’s the thing of future’ and we were overwhelmed by technology appearing on the internet, articles, blogs, it was something else.
The first system we ever built was the simplest hydroponics system consisting of 50 grow bags filled with coco peat arranged in a very chaotic manner with no automation, it was our first time after all. The fact that we were genuinely interested in learning helped us get the best results out of that system as well, we were trying new things, we were building new systems, by all this we were building the foundation of our journey in the industry.
On our journey, we met plenty of Hydroponics / Aquaponics farmers, consultants, product manufacturers, government officials etc. and this article is all about our experience and our opinions, it is open to interpretations we are refraining ourselves from naming people directly.
Let us begin with our first visit to a hydroponics farm in Pune, this farm was hugely spread over an area of two and a half acres, the owner claimed it to be India’s first Hydroponics farm, we reached there, we entered the huge, tall polyhouse. Let me remind you once again, this was our first encounter with practicalities of hydroponics. So when we went there we saw that the owner was demolishing entire hydroponics set up and spreading up the soil when we asked him why he was doing so, he simply told us ‘Hydroponics is a fraud concept, it doesn’t require less water, it is difficult to get any profit.’ now, what he claimed about hydroponics wasn’t true but he had a firm belief in his mind about fraudulent nature of the noble concept, there was only one reason for this, his consultant charged him a ton and left for some other project without training this man to run a farm, it was an INR 2.5 Crore worth of implementation, but, an utter waste.
We were mournful after this encounter, we felt like there is no future in this industry.We were growing food in our homes and we were happy with the results. That kept us going and we decided to not give up.We decided to meet more people, chat with real experts, hear success stories, do free internships. And hence here we had our next surprising encounter with another Hydroponics pro, a guy from south India who is probably the biggest in India.We somehow contacted him through Facebook achieved his mobile number.(Yes! That was an achievement considering the efforts we put in for that.) I finally called him to ask if I can work on his farm for free, if we can do something together, this was his response,”Listen Chinmay, I can always arrange internships that isn’t a big deal, but the point is I have slogged my ass for four years in this industry I am not going to let you poach my techniques and build your own farm” I thank this man for his gesture because that was the moment we decided to jump in this industry to teach people how to teach. Back then we all were 19-year-old middle-class boys who were working and studying, how could we ever think about going big in the industry, but as somebody has rightly said, ‘things happen for a reason’. And that was the moment we jumped in.
After that, we met a hydroponics consultant in Mumbai, a confident guy with experience, this time a polite guy. We discussed business with him we were actually looking forward to working with him. But then he dropped a quote for implementation of 1 Acre implementation and his consultancy fees were 4 times of my annual package, I was truly overwhelmed. In three meetings he showed us three different fees structures.He has his commission in polybags, nutrients, and almost everything.We decided not to go ahead with him, and hence we were left with only one option.
‘Take some time, read, learn, study, experiment and then think it through’ and we did it. We attended numerous greenhouse workshops, tilapia farming workshops. We did some online courses. We read some good books like, “Hydroponic Food Production”,”Marschner’s Mineral Nutrition of Higher Plants”,”Recirculating Aquaculture”. We read Dr. Wilson Lennard and Dr. James Rackocy’s thesis papers.We studied and studied, in the meantime we shifted from hydroponics to aquaponics and we had our own reasons to do so (will share those in a separate session!)
Wait wait! It’s not over yet, this is where we met an Aquaponics consultant and product manufacturer. A guy with minimum knowledge and maximum confidence (you can call it over-confidence), we told him we are willing to go ahead with aquaponics and he was ready to help us out with the materials like Bato buckets, NFTs, grow media etc. We were happy since he was the manufacturer, we assumed that he would be cheaper than the market, that my friends, that was the mistake. In the meantime, we had convinced our families that this is what we were going to do and they had agreed to help us out with land and funds. But then another nuclear bomb fell on us with the pricing of those materials, just for the sake of knowledge, the overall cost of 2000 Square feet farm was coming to INR 40,00,000 if we had bought his system. This was horrible, and hence we decided to get rid of consultant and build a farm on our own confidently.
Today, we have a successful commercial aquaponics farm running strongly in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, and we must say that we are proud of it. We have commenced our own consulting business but we are different than that of above, we believe in educating people we believe in helping them out, we are planning a zero consulting fees model for our clients so that they can thrive to start aquaponics farming. This is how we plan to build the industry in India and put a full stop to greedy consulting in India.