At the time when Chennai is forced to rely on onions imported from Egypt to cater to the city’s needs, alternate farming methods are gaining importance among locals. Many are turning to hydroponics, given the commercial benefits it holds in urban spaces.
According to BA Srinivaasan, a resident of Poes Garden who is looking to enter into commercial hydroponics, the agricultural method facilitates the growth of crops like spinach, kale, and lettuce moves well with middle and upper class communities.
“Currently, many youngsters are very health conscious. They are looking for fresh produce. Therefore, the urban market is prime for the growth of commercial hydroponics,” he said.
With nearly 250 plants across 50 square feet, Rahul Dhoka runs Acqua Farms out of his home in Nungambakkam. “When compared to regular soil-based farming, hydroponics fares better in urban spaces and markets. Regular farming is heavily reliant on transportation, and hydroponics in the city take away the logistical and quality-related issues,” he said.
The rate of crop growth in this method is around 30 to 40 per cent faster and have a 30 to 40 per cent higher yield than soil-based agriculture. “This is because the nutrients are already in ionic form and are directly provided to the roots. We also use less water, and so cost of production also goes down. For example, lettuce costs us Rs 15 to 17 per kg, and basil costs Rs 20 to 25 per kg to produce,” he said.
Dhoka, who supplies to various restaurants across the city, explained that many brand themselves by saying they use hydroponically-grown crops. “Vegetables are also grown year-round, and so we can supply to them regularly,” he said.
Return on investment
The biggest drawback for commercial hydroponics is the initial capital. However, both Srinivaasan and Dhoka concur that hydroponics will yield returns in the short-term. “People looking to take up hydroponics on a commercial scale can even do a collaboration with landlords and home-owners and tap into the terrace spaces that are abundant in the city,” said Srinivaasan.