A changing climate and thus an aggravating agrarian crisis is putting India at grave risk. Droughts and crop failure continue to plague the agro-rich zones of India, signalling an impending food crisis for the ever-growing Indian population. At such a juncture, the condition of the cattle and other farm animals are more pathetic. Pastures are drying up from the excessive heat and degrading soil nutrition. Even dried hay is becoming a scarcity in many places, let alone fresh, green fodder, especially during the scorching summer months. At such a juncture, a few regions in drought-infested Rajasthan seemed to have found an innovative way out, which can actually be the future of agriculture in India in the face of worsening climate and persistent water crisis. Using the method of hydroponics, non-profit veterinary organisation Ayurvet Research Foundation is growing fresh, green, chemical-free cattle feed in only seven days, using just two to three litres of water per kilogram of produce, whereas traditional farming consumes 80-90 litres of water for the same amount.
The history of hydroponics
Before we delve into the impact of hydroponics on the parched population of the driest Indian state, a basic idea about this interesting concept ought to be provided.
The idea has been around for the past few centuries since 1627 when English philosopher Francis Bacon brought forth the idea of growing plants without soil in his book Sylva Sylvarum. Over the next centuries, the experiments on the idea grew more popular, but it never gained the mainstream limelight that it deserved. However, more and more scientific advances continued to be introduced in this domain.
In the 1930s, hydroponics was used by residents of Wake Island in the Pacifics, where they grew vegetables in this technique to supply for the passengers of the Pan-American Airlines, whose aircrafts used to stop over at the islands for refuelling.
Much later, a variety of hydroponic techniques were exhibited publicly at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Centre.
Hydroponics did not come within the ambit of commercial cultivation until 2007, when a farm in Arizona, USA started marketing hydroponically grown organic tomatoes. Much later, Canada adopted the technique on a much larger scale in commercial greenhouses, where cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes are farmed.
Space research had made profuse use of hydroponics as NASA considers it the future of farming if space travel ever becomes a reality. In fact, they have time and again experimented with the procedure by simulating outer space environments in their research centres.
Hydroponics in India – Ayurvet’s contribution
In India, hydroponics still remains an alien concept for most, except for a handful of urban gardeners or organic farmers who practise it in constricted urban spaces.
However, away from the limelight, Ayurvet seems to have been deploying the technique for almost the last 1.5 decade, to aid the helpless villagers in Rajasthan’s Bikaner, Udaipur and Jaipur.
“Chemical-free fodder is key to safe milk production. With the constraint of declining agricultural land and water scarcity, Hydroponics Technology is really fulfilling the need of the hour,” says Mr Pradip Burman, Chairman of Ayurvet Group and a sustainability crusader supporting the technology.
As explained by Mr. M.J Saxena, the Hydroponic innovator at Ayurvet Ltd., the green feed can be grown within a week in a controlled environment, from surplus seeds of maize and sorghum.
How hydroponics is saving the lives of farm animals
At first, the seeds are moistened abundantly and soaked in water dissolved with biopesticides and natural growth-enhancers. In a compact space, temperature and humidity are maintained at a constant to promote the highest growth rates for the saplings, which are grown in shelves stacked one above the other. The requirement for a soil base is negated since the freshly sprouted roots get entangled in a compact mesh giving solid base support to the fast-growing saplings. The watering happens in a very interesting manner, making use of the trickle effect, where the residual water from the upper layer sieves down to the lower layer. The final excess water is collected in a tank placed at the bottom which is used for recycling.
The benefits of hydroponics are aplenty, especially if it is popularised on a widespread scale in an agro-based country like India. Not only it gives better and healthier, 100% organic crops for the entire year, irrespective of seasonal climatic variations, but it also minimises the use as well as misuse of water, land and other natural resources. By growing cattle feed with hydroponics, Ayurvet experts have inferred that it indeed offers more land for food crop or cash crop cultivation. Moreover, the fresh, green and chemical-free feed improves the health of the cattle, immunising them from diseases and increasing milk production.
Lastly, but never the least, is the huge human labour that is saved by the use of hydroponics since the system works more or less on its own once the initial set up is completed.
At present, the main hurdle for mass adoption of hydroponics simply happens to be lack of awareness. It is high time the concerned government authorities take note of this amazing technique and take steps to popularise and make it available to the farming community. This would benefit the farmers, improve animal health and address the threat of climate change.