The project aims to make low cost and easy to learn hydroponics or soil-less cultivation methods available to rural and urban growers of vegetables, fruits and herbs in India.
Per Bharo Project was launched in 2009 in India. The Project is being executed by The Institute of Simplified Hydroponics, a division of Optimus Interweave, Australia, based in Bangalore. The chief visionary of the project is Mr. CV Prakash. The project aims to make low cost and easy to learn hydroponics or soil-less cultivation methods available to rural and urban growers of vegetables, fruits and herbs in India.
“Initially I was involved in commercial high cost, high technology Hydroponic Greenhouse systems. I tried to find a market for such a system in India but found it difficult at the time.
Later I met Ms Peggy Bradley, Executive Director of the Institute of Simplified Hydroponics in the United States. The pioneering work that she had done to lift many thousands of people from poverty and hunger inspired me to launch the technology in India by way of the Pet Bharo Project. Ms Peggy Bradley, Mr. Andrew ‘Andy’ Loughrin, Ms Sangeeta Bojappa and I were the key players in this project,” says Mr. Prakash.
Simplified Hydroponics was developed in Latin America. This method of cultivation can be easily adapted to the conditions of urban areas and the urban periphery, in the following ways:
· As the production system is isolated from the soil, vegetables can be produced “without land”, in small physical spaces. Planting takes place at a convenient height, where soil pollution has no impact.
· Plants are grown in water containers or in low–cost natural substrates (sand, rice husk, pumice, etc.). With this system, it is possible to grow a vast range of vegetables, for example, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, celery, watercress, eggplants, beans, parsley, wild radish, leeks, strawberries, melons, aromatic and medicinal plants, etc.
· One of the main advantages is the possibility of using urban spaces like patios, small gardens, party walls, balconies, and rooftops.
· High efficiency in the use of irrigation water, where water is recycled and does not pollute the environment.
· Pest, disease and weed control by natural herbal methods.
· Higher yields and shorter times between harvests. Hence, total output is greater than the case of conventional soil systems.
· The technique is easy to learn and concrete results are achieved quickly.
· It is not labor intensive. The investment required is also less.
· Use of recycled materials – it is possible to use recycled materials to build growing systems.
Speaking about the cost involved to set up a hydroponics garden, Mr. Prakash says, “A 20 sq m garden that can produce up to 2 kilograms of fresh pesticide-free vegetables should cost approximately 110-120 USD per garden if built by procuring locally available recyclable materials. The running cost of the garden should be approximately 100-110 USD per year.”
By way of protective structure, the hydrophonics garden needs a simple inexpensive shade net. “The appropriate shade-to-sun ratio can be procured from any agricultural product supplier to protect plants from excessive sunlight and a reasonably thick polythene sheet can keep the garden safe from rains,” he avers.
Protection from Pests
To protect the plants from pests and weeds the project encourages the growers to use neem and garlic sprays. “In addition we also use mechanical insect traps made of old plywood that are anointed with old used engine/motor oil or light waste grease that attract different flying predators and these insects get stuck to the traps. The common colours used are a bright yellow or blue as jackets over the plywood. These traps are kept beside the table growers,” says Mr. Prakash.
He further says, “Another natural method used is by trap cropping or catch cropping or companion cropping. For e.g. when we grow Mint, we grow Cabbage, Tomatoes alongside it. This causes a conflict as insects get confused by the pheromones in the vicinity and are safely vectored to look for another area of interest. We also hang small length strips of old cassette tapes on the periphery of the garden that can ward off predator birds.”
He adds, “Similarly we used clear plastic bags filled with water to vector insects during the day as the reflection/refraction of the sunlight through these bags cause homing in difficult due to the compound eyes of the insects. These are not a total list and we have learnt from many of our students recently many home grown natural methods that have been used by farmers successfully in many parts of India for thousands of years. We also encourage the use of beneficial insects to attack and kill unwanted pests.”
Mr. Prakash further reiterates that the system of Simplified Hydroponics requires just about 1/10th to 1/20th of the water used in soil cultivation. “Our system calls for good quality water with the right pH/Total Dissolved Solids and where not available we treat the same by use of very inexpensive methods to make that water usable. When we say that we recycle the nutrient we mean that the excess nutrient water drained out is collected and reused in the grower bed,” he says.
“In our system the water is poured into the grower bed and allows the nutrient water to drain off as the aim is wetting of the root environment. This draining is done by the fact that the substrates we use have a high degree of porosity that facilitates this requirement. In fact we are discussing with the Architects Association of India about how they may consider spaces for Hydroponics in apartments and areas where they build their complexes and are asking them to incorporate rain water harvesting systems that can help residents using Hydroponics,” he adds.
The company has trained a total of 126 students so far as master trainers. The training project was conducted in a rural school in Kothanur, North Bangalore, called the Sandra Ricketts Public school which also houses about 20-25 children some of whom are orphans and from very disadvantaged backgrounds.
ISH Bangalore have during the course of this training helped by the trainees who participated, set up a 25 sq m vegetable and herb garden to cater to the needs of the children living at this hostel. The garden is expected to provide nearly 2-2.5 kilos of pesticide free, freshly picked, vegetables and herbs every single day.
“We are happy to have launched the “Pet Bharo” project and are looking forward to our next phase of training expected to start in mid March 2009. Our immediate aim is to locate and set up a brick and mortar institute at Rural Bangalore for the ISH wherein we are planning to conduct training of personnel from our ISH Chapters in all Indian states, conduct R&D in growing nutritional vegetables and herbs, medicinal and aromatic plants for the herbal cosmetics and drugs sector. We also intend to work closely with various Indian agricultural universities to study a bunch of easily growable vegetables and herbs that will suit the local environments and provide good, clean, affordable food for the people at long last,” says Mr. Prakash.
When asked about tie-ups with agricultural societies, Mr. Prakash says, “We are getting enquiries from The National Horticultural Research Development Foundation (NHRDF), Nasik as well as from the Jammu and Kashmir Agri-Business Development Corporation asking us to assist in spreading this in their areas of interest.”
Speaking about the company’s future plans, Mr. Prakash says, “Our immediate goals are to continue training people in this system as master trainers, do more awareness campaigns in all states of India, establish and support model gardens in every state through ISH local chapters. ISH headquarters in Bangalore is now looking for passionate individuals and companies to become our exclusive franchises/chapters in all Indian states. We plan to support and continuously provide inputs to help make them successful.”
He adds, “The ISH is now in the process of locating a suitable place to set up a permanent institution/campus in an area of about 5 acres in a rural Bangalore. The institution will have trained faculty from within and from other agriculture/horticulture institutions in India including senior experts from various walks of agriculture including retired professors and scientists on our panel.
We intend to work closely with Universities and Research institutions to spread Simplified Hydroponics at a rapid rate in India. The ISH Bangalore Campus will house library/Nutrient lab/Classrooms for Theory and Outdoor Training/R&D labs to grow medicinal/aromatic plants for the herbal drugs and cosmetics industry and will collaborate with such companies both in India and abroad in Joint ventures. Also the ISH is now in the process of identify groups of vegetables and herbs that are unique to each part of India and will come up with tables to suggest what may be grown and eaten to help keep up with the basic nutritional values.”
He further adds, “In India we have so far built a small team of about 10 people and are expected to take in many more members.”