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Urban Agriculture: The Answer To Quality and Nutritious Food

Indoor farming may be a turning point in agricultural practices

Urban Argriculture the answer to growing quality food & meeting nutritional requirement. Wikimedia Commons


Can climate-controlled freight containers help in farming or can plants grow without any soil? The answers to these questions can be found in Urban farming. It involves indoor cultivation under controlled conditions with up to eight harvests in a year. It offers an ideal solution for regional or community-specific food needs, for local crops that would not be economically viable for full scale cultivation. It can also help cities become self-sufficient in their product demand while getting fresh food the year-round. Vertical urban farming whether with soil or hydroponics-based increases the space utilization by 3-4 fold with lower water and nutrient usage. Therefore, it allows the farmer to have 3-4 fold higher area with 20 per cent faster growth rate, leading to 3-4 fold higher harvests. Multiple harvests in a year would lead to higher profits compared to traditional farming. Indoor farms may use drip-irrigated pots, hydroponics, aeroponics or hydrogel-based polymers for growing vegetables depending on the growth requirements of the plant.

Conventional farms are resource inefficient as about 70 per cent of nutrients and 60 per cent of the water inputs are lost due to runoffs. Further, the plant growth is dependent on soil nutrients and environment. Since crops in urban farms are grown in a closed environment, sometime without soil, they have minimal /no exposure to outside environment and pests. Thus, they require no/minimal pesticide sprays. With lower pesticide usage and transport needs for supplying food, urban farms use lesser fossil fuel. The resource efficient indoor farming that is not overly impacted by the weather is able to provide optimal growth conditions to the plants to maximize the harvest. The set up uses high-efficiency light source, water re-cycling in minimal space, with low electricity usage leading to a reduced carbon footprint. Special light requirements for indoor farming are now met by several organizations which have enabled higher production and cost reductions over longer period. Environment controlled containers, greenhouses or poly-houses on land or roof-tops are some of the options for climate resilient urban farming.

The structural design of indoor farming units and turn-over time for efficient harvests have limited it to few compact crops, especially leafy salads. A crop variety suitable for urban farms needs to be small, compact, early flowering and having early maturing fruits. Currently about 65 herbs, micro-greens and leafy greens, including broccoli, Italian Basil, Crystal Lettuce, mint, coriander, tomatoes etc are being grown in indoor farms. Brahmi, an Ayurvedic traditional medicine used to improve memory and to treat inflammatory diseases, etc. is also being cultivated using hydroponics. Indian urban farmers can expand on their crops if more local crops are bred for compaction and shorter growth cycle. The Indian scientists have the skill and competency to enable urban farmers grow many more crops efficiently, especially in zones with extreme weather and water scarcity.

The digitization of farming has enabled extensive data collection throughout the cultivation cycle. The analysis of the growth and environmental parameters can help design better nutrient regimes, improved growth and faster maturity for crops to maximize output. In indoor farms, these optimizations include temperature, light spectrum and nutrient pH. Artificial intelligence (AI) can also be used for analysis and better optimizations. These optimizations would lead to improved futuristic design of the farms as well as resource utilization to make them more sustainable.

Indoor agriculture in today’s time may solve many problems. Pixabay

The produce requirements of large cities, such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, are met through supplies from the suburbs and distant locations, therefore, their quality is dependent on storage conditions and the distance travelled. Urban farming can overcome these variables to make cities self-sufficient in their fresh produce. In India, indoor farming is majorly confined to metros and major cities that have a demand for organically grown farm fresh produce like spinach, mint, lettuce, thyme, basil, tomatoes and strawberries, but many progressive Indian farmers too have turned to urban farming techniques for exotic small crops like broccoli, red and yellow capsicum, cherry tomatoes, etc.

Many nations are growing and exporting indoor farm produce, especially leafy vegetables, fruits and flowers. Pioneer amongst them are the Netherlands, they are the top exporter of potatoes and onions and the second largest exporter of vegetables that are grown in climate-controlled indoor farms. Considering the small set-up requirements, capital and proximity to the market, indoor farming is ideal endeavour for start-ups. In the past decade a dozen such start-ups have come up around major cities in India. They have got some support from universities, ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) and organizations like a-IDEA (Association for Innovation Development of Entrepreneurship in Agriculture) and NAARM (National Academy of Agricultural Research Management) in Hyderabad. Recently, in the US, the USDA has established a new Urban Ag Office and announced USD three million in new grants. In other countries, there are several private companies that provide infrastructure, equipment for indoor farming both for home and commercial setup. Companies (such as Contain Inc.) are coming up with alternate finance options for indoor growers, for greenhouse or containers.

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With the right support from the Government, interest from young agri-tech startups, training programs and greater awareness amongst the urban population regarding the opportunity as well as quality offered by indoor farming, it can gain popularity and contribute to the nutritional needs of the urban India. (IANS)



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Back to the Soil With Organic Farming

Here's the story of various people who have returned back to their soil, organically

Many professionals have returned back to their soil. PIxabay

By Sukant Deepak

A banker from Canada, a resort director, a top executive in a leading IT company and a senior corporate communications professional with a major hospital chain. Defying all stereotypes and preconceived notions of farmhands, an increasing number of highly qualified professionals from both genders are quitting their lucrative professions and getting back to the soil in Punjab full-time,making responsible farming their way of life.

Using social media including WhatsApp to spread the word, participating in pop-up organic farmers’ markets across the region and organising day-long farm tours, these new-age farmers, compost kit makers and teachers are ascertaining that those wanting pesticide-free food grains don’t have to look too hard.

Rahul Sharma’s wife would always laugh when on a typical IT sprint meeting call, he would be discussing his project at Flipkart, and a few hours later, talking about manure collection with a farmer.

This organic farmer who now grows cereal grains, pulses, oil seeds, turmeric and garlic at his five acre farm in Kapurthala full time, insists that the ongoing lockdown has made people aware about the importance of growing their own food, and that too pesticide-free. “But yes, if the government is serious about providing nutritional security, then it must ascertain economic benefits to farmers so they can go in for sustainable agriculture,” he stresses.

For someone who started doing organic farming in 2016, the thrill that comes with growing safe food for others is unparalled.”The fact that there is a patch of land which is now free of poison, where life thrives, and that I am contributing towards healthy soil.”

Rahul Sharma now grows cereal grains, pulses, oil seeds, turmeric and garlic at his five acre farm in Kapurthala full time. Pixabay

Not regretting his switch from a corporate IT job, which never allowed him to pursue his passions like photography, Sharma has now decided to streamline production and ordering process. “I have now a set rotation of crops which provide nutrition to the soil, as well as work well in the consumer market. I am also working on an online platform to make it easier for my consumers to order grains and be in touch with me,” he adds. He also lectures and interacts with school and college students at his farm about the importance of sustainable agriculture/lifestyle.

Shivraj Bhullar, who has a four-acre farm in Manimajra and grows a variety of seasonal vegetables, leafy greens and fruits left his cushy banker job in Canada to start organic farming on his piece of land in 2014 post volunteering at different farms across India to learn the ropes. “The organic farming convention that was held in the region in 2015 brought a lot of people together. Since then, the movement has been growing with greater awareness amongst consumers in this part of the country,” he says. For someone who has always been interested in Yoga and nutrition, one of the major factors that keeps him excited is the community around the organic farming movement in Punjab. “Farmers go out of their way to help each other out. It’s been a humbling and continuous learning experience for me,” he adds.

Planning to take his farm to the next level by installing a drip irrigation system and rain water harvesting for water conservation, Bhullar is all set to buy more animals so as to decrease his dependence on outside sources for manure.

Coordinator of the Chandigarh Farmers’ Market, Seema Jolly, who owns a five-acre farm in village Karoran in Punjab and grows vegetables,fruit, grains, oilseeds and pulses wants her farm to be a school for organic/natural farming, yoga and Ayurveda in the near future. One of the directors of the Baikunth Resorts Pvt Ltd, Jolly started organic farming in 2011 and there has been no looking back since then. “There is a certain joy in knowing that what you supply is not harming the consumer in any way,” she says. Instrumental in organising trips for school children to different farmers across Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, Jolly also helps small organic farmers with logistics and selling their produce. “The organic farmers market initiative, in July 2015 was a landmark in bringing relief to the marketing problems of organic farmers and encouraging more farmers to turn organic. Frankly, what is needed is small markets like these in all districts. It may take time, but people are bound to tilt towards organic if there is easy availability.”

There are many people who own farms including Former National level hockey player Mohanjit Dhaliwal who has two farms. Pixabay

Former National level hockey player Mohanjit Dhaliwal who has two farms — one if Ropar and another in Fathegrah Sahib, the latter being part of permaculture food forest in ‘Sanjhi Mitti Food Forest Community’, has been involved in organic farmer for more than 10 years now. Talking about the roadblocks when it comes to shifting to organic, he feels, that the government’s policy of 100 per cent wheat paddy procurement has to change. “Farmers, who used to be entrepreneurs and solutions finders are now behaving like robots.Nothing is going to change unless policy makers get out of whole process.”

Besides holding regular workshops on permaculture which is attended by people from around the country, Dhaliwal, who is working on a forest therapy centre, adds, ” Our Eco library at the farm where anyone can read or borrow books on related subjects is quite a hit with both children and adults.”

Chandigarh-based Jyoti Arora, who supplies odour-free composters in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Chandigarh to houses, hotels, institutions, municipalities, and engages with Swachh Bharat teams of different municipalities, says, “I also do a lot of lecture demonstrations to sensitise people and encourage people to go green. In fact, my farming is a by product of the compost generated from my domestic waste in which the produce comes solely out of the compost.”

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Everything changed for Diksha Suri, a former corporate communications head with a major hospital chain when she spent time at Auroville in 2004. “Being there and learning from experts started a journey of a more conscious approach towards the living greens and browns. I attended formal workshops and started experimenting an organic way of living,” says Suri, who, along with a friend set up Chandigarh’s first Nature Club in 2012.

From organising organic farm visits, forest walks and fossil sites for children and their parents, Suri says that she has been able to make hundreds of children conscious about what they eat. “A lot of them are now at ease with composting, growing vegetables, identifying birds, and more than anything, being in sync with nature. We now regularly hold talks and workshops on organic farming, composting, waste management, across schools, colleges and corporate offices in the region.”

Chandigarh-based Rishi Miranshah, who has made the nine-part docu-series ‘The Story of Food – A No Fresh Carbon Footprint’ which is available to watch online on Films for Action website and YouTube says, “Considering what chemicals have been doing to our food and the need to switch to organic, it was important for me to make this documentary which is an investigation, tracing the trail of devastations bringing us to the point where we are today. Food being the thread that connects us to life; and the way we obtain our food being that connects us to a way of life, the movie begins by examining our agri-culture, our very relationship with the land.” (IANS)

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New Reforms and Alternative Markets Likely To Benefit Farmers

New reforms will benefit farmers who are reeling under the Covid-19 crisis. Pixabay

The Modi government in order to double the income of farmers by 2022 announced a slew of measures last week, and it is widely expected that these reforms will benefit farmers who are reeling under the Covid-19 crisis. Post Coronavirus as state reopens farmers might benefit.

IANS spoke to Ashok Dalwai, chairman of the Committee for Doubling Farmers’ Income, on the issue of strategic reforms initiated by the government and their importance to the farm sector.

He said the alternative market provided to the farmers will give them more earning power. The reforms will unshackle the agriculture value chains by deregulating the essential commodity trade and introducing a Central law to ease inter-state farm trade, effectively overriding the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis that have shown resistance to change in the past.

“We are not ending the APMC, but reforming it. Till now APMC was regulated by the state governments, now the private sector can establish its own APMC which will give an alternative market to farmers,” Dalwai said.

He said the way the telecom sector provided options to the consumers to choose the operators of their choice, in the same way the private AMPC will give farmers the choice to sell their produce at a better price anywhere in India. “The proposed amendment to the Essential Commodities Act of 1955 will ensure seamless movement of farm produce not only inter-state, but also within the state. Anyone having a central license can buy and sell anywhere,” Dalwai said.

Ashok Dalwai says Alternative markets might help corona struck farmers. Pixabay

Dalwai said many states have already adopted the reforms and more will join in the future. “The new law related to APMC will be definitely adopted by the state governments and the Centre will provide the framework for inter-state trade of agricultural produce. If a farmer in UP wants to sell his produce to a market in Karnataka, he does not need to go there. He can do so online. The way e-NAM works for APMC mandis, e-platform will work for such farmers.”

He said the amendment to the Essential Commodities Act has been initiated with the sole purpose to provide better prices to the farmers. The government has also decided to free certain categories of agricultural products such as cereals, pulses, oilseeds, onions, and potatoes from the government’s control and lend more predictability to even export policies.

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On the question of challenges due to Covid-19 with regard to doubling farmers’ income, Dalwai said, “The farmers have not been impacted due to the pandemic. There will be no problem in achieving the target of doubling farmers’ income by the year 2022.” (IANS)

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Indian Farmers’ Woes Amid Covid-19 Lockdown

This current Covid-19 lockdown has taken a toll on the farmers across the country more than expected

farmers india lockdown
The hard lives of farmers and their sacrifices have always inspired philosophers, leaders and statesmen.

By Salil Gewali

The farming is the basis of a human civilization. The hard lives of farmers and their sacrifices have always inspired philosophers, leaders and statesmen. But sadly, most of the city denizens have least respect for the farmers from the village. Basically, they are not much aware of what it is like to cultivate the land. In contrast to the easy-going life in a town, the constant slogging is the mainstay of any no-nonsense villagers. Well, harvests are the fruit of their dedicated labor and perseverance. What all produced by the villagers finally come to the town to feed and nourish the urbane population. What if the farmers stop growing the crops? The urbane population will die of hunger. But it is a very sorry state of affairs that the urbanite hardly appreciates the labor of our peasant folks. Therefore, some of us often just become outrageously insensitive to them. We mercilessly bargain and “reduce” the price of their produce brought all the way from the remote village.

farmers india lockdown
Most of the city denizens have least respect for the farmers from the village.

Needless to say, this current Covid-19 lockdown has taken a toll on the farmers across the country more than expected. But the saddest thing is that we townies are least bothered about that. Here I would like to share a short anecdote about a farmer from one of the remote villages in a certain state in India.

About two weeks back, amid the lockdown relaxation, a farmer and his son somehow managed to reach a town with just two sacks of green cabbages and some bunches of green coriander. They have not eaten anything since morning. Of course, what difficulty has pushed the father-and-son duo to rush to the town early morning with their harvest certainly has a lot of poignant realities. The son, on my enquiry, disclosed that they are not eating the full meal these days. Because of the shortage of rice, they are often forced to live on mere potatoes and salt.

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The shabbily dressed boy of about 11-year old assisted his father in selling the coriander. The father on his part tried to woo customers to buy the cabbage. I purchased three bunches of coriander from the boy though I did not need so many.

farmers india lockdown
This current Covid-19 lockdown has taken a toll on the farmers across the country more than expected.

The villager’s each sack contained approximately 50 kg of green cabbage. I learned he was expecting the price of Rs 25/- – Rs 30/- per kg. It was already midday; the farmer grew more and more apprehensive and distraught. He was not alone, there are many other farmers who were looking for the buyers. However, at last, one retailer approached that farmer. The retailer bargained very hard for the cabbage. He offered to buy two sacks of the vegetable only at the paltry amount of Rs 12 per kg. It was like taking undue advantage of the farmer’s vulnerability. Since the farmer had no option and it was getting late, he became compelled to give in. He sold off both the sacks of cabbage to the clever retailer. The crops fetched him only about Rs 1200/-. Just imagine now what he would have done with the had he not chanced upon that retailer. The farmer cannot ever think of taking the produce back home. This is the worst Achilles heel of any farmers from a remote village.

I don’t know much about this farmer but what I can gather is he has not received even the minimum “labor cost” for the vegetable. He has been callously exploited.

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If we logically estimate his labor cost, the farmer has “suffered a huge loss”. If I am not wrong it must take at least one whole week of two persons’ day-long-labor to produce 100 kg of cabbage in 3 to 4 months. If we consider the one-person’s labor wage per day as meager amount as Rs 150/- then the total labor cost for 100 kg cabbage comes to Rs 2100/-. Here I have not included the cost of the seeds, manure and various risk factors like pests, a storm that might have damaged the farmer’s crops any time. But the farmer received from the retailer only Rs 1200/- for 100 kg cabbage. This is a pathetic predicament faced regularly by every villager. I see this as a brutal injustice to a naïve villager. I would rather put — it is a travesty of justice and good governance that we have no mechanism in place to protect our humble farmers from being stung by the urban folks. What’s more, the same cabbage at the same time was being sold by the retailers at rupees between 60 to 45 at certain retail junctions in a locality.    Who will address this disparity between the haves and haves-not vis-à-vis socio-economic exploitation? Anyway, how long shall we put the fate of the humble farmers on lockdown?

A Shillong-based writer and researcher, Salil Gewali is best known for his research-based work entitled ‘Great minds on India’ which has earned worldwide appreciations. Translated into Eleven languages, his book has been prefaced by a world-acclaimed NASA Chief scientist – Dr. Kamlesh Lulla of Houston, USA.

[ Disclaimer: The pictures used in the article are supplied by the author, NewsGram has no intention of infringing copyrights. ]