While it may sound implausible to grow plants without any soil, botanists have been experimenting with techniques to minimise the resources required for agriculture from as early as the 17th century. Researchers had found that plants grew better in nutrient solutions than in soil.
Chennai-based electronics engineer-turned-farmer Akhil Nichani, who has been experimenting with hydroponics for about four years, says he was fascinated by hydroponics due to the less resources the method requires compared to regular farming. “I began experimenting with hydroponics as a hobby. What interested me about the method was how the yield per acre through hydroponics was more than the regular method, with no limitations of the season. Since hydroponics are grown in controlled environment, the quality of yield is also much better,” says Akhil, who founded the company Sustenance AgriTech Private Ltd, which works on hydroponics in the city. At his test farm in Kilpauk, Akhil grows a variety of greens like kale, lettuce, spinach, basil, mustard greens, bok choy, etc., in polyhouses — which are structures covered by polyethylene to create a controlled atmosphere for the plants. “Since all the nutrients that the plants require are found in the water solution that they are grown in, the crops don’t have to search for them as they have to in soil. Controlled environment also makes it easier for plants to grow upwards — there is no need for pesticides and sprays — making plants grow much cleaner. One can grow most kinds of plants through hydroponics — leafy and fruiting varieties,” adds Akhil, who supplies his hydroponic produce to a few restaurants in the city. Since the quality of the food output is higher than the usual, it would benefit a lot of cooks and restaurants, he notes.
Over the few years that he has been practicing the food growing technique, Akhil remarks that the trend has been steadily gaining popularity in the city with more farmers taking up hydroponics. “Hydroponics is the future of farming. It can take shape depending on how government policies are framed around this technology,” he admits.