Monday, December 1, 2014


"There are no principles on empty stomach"

Hydroponics is the art and science of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. By this method, terrestrial plants may be grown with their roots in the mineral nutrient solution only or in an inert medium, such as gravel, expanded clay aggregate, Coir, Rice hulls, Pumice, Vermiculite, Sand, Gravel, Wood fibre or perlite.

In a hydroponic system, a nutrient-dense water mixture circulates through the plants’ roots. This takes care of the need for soil and traditional fertilizers. Hydroponics will fundamentally change the way that food is grown around the world.


1.No soil is needed. Therefore no crop limitation due to soil type, erosions or unhealthy soils.

2.The water stays in the system and can be reused - thus, lesser water requirement.

3.It  is  possible to  control  the  nutrition  levels in  their totality - thus, lower nutrition requirements.

4.No nutrition pollution is released into the environment because of the controlled system. Hence, No nutrition waste due to water run-off which in turn can lead to Eutrophication.[concentration of unwanted minerals in water]

5.Stable and high yields of crops.

6.Pests and diseases are easier to get rid of, than in soil because  of the hydroponic  container's  mobility  and ease of replacing nutrient fluid.

7.Ease of harvesting.

8.pH balance [acid or alkali content] of nutrient solution can be easily set.

9.Water can be recycled so it is advantageous in drought prone areas or deserts.

10.Higher  and stable yields because the plants do not spend too much energy in finding nutrients in the soil thus this energy is invested into the growth of the plant. There is no competition  with weed for food and water. In hydroponics the adequate nutrients are delivered straight to the roots.

11.Climate and weather uncertainty is eliminated as crops are grown in a controlled environment.

12.Less frequent occurrence of diseases because of the absence of soil which acts as a growth medium for bacteria.

13.Due to container  mobility, hydroponics  enables the farmer to grow crops near the area of use thus reducing transportation costs.

14.Labour intensive work such as watering, tilling, cultivating, and fumigation is not required for hydroponic farming (Jones, 1997). The system is usually automated using pumps and computers, thus labour costs will decrease dramatically.

15.The simplified hydroponic technique is easy to understand and does not require prior specialized knowledge to achieve concrete results.

16. Multiple cycles of cropping can be practised. As many as 20 odd cycles of crops can be grown in a year in a single hydroponic system. On soil only around 3-4 crop cycles can be practiced in a year.

Today, hydroponics is an established branch of agriculture. Progress has been rapid, and results obtained in various countries have demonstrated it to be thoroughly practical  and  to  have  very  definite  advantages  over conventional methods of cultivation.

There are two principal merits of hydroponic cultivation of plants. First, hydroponics can produce much greater crop yields per unit area. Also, hydroponics can be used in places where agriculture or cultivation is not possible.

Basic hydroponic cultivation is much simpler and cheaper with lesser  operational  and maintenance  costs. Yields  from such systems outweigh the regular farming yields. In addition, cheap and easily available materials such as ceramic pots, fish aquarium tanks, and aluminium cans can be used. It is also useful in urban areas where there is inadequate agricultural

India faces several food security related problems. About a quarter of the world's hungry, or 210 million people i.e. 21 crore  people),  are  in  India  alone  (almost  20% of  our  total population.) Malnutrition is more common in India than in Sub-Saharan Africa. One in every three malnourished children in the world lives in India. Malnutrition limits development and the capacity to learn. It also costs lives: about 50 per cent of all childhood deaths are attributed to malnutrition. In India, around 46 per cent of all children below the age of three are too small for their age, 47 per cent are underweight and at least 16 per cent are wasted. Many of these children are severely malnourished .

The yield per hectare of cereals in India is less than half that of china and less than one-third that of the USA.

India also faces an impending water crisis due to acute shortage of water. Water scarcity complicates food security, as there is less water available for irrigation and farming activities. India also incurs high cost in transporting food across its vast territory. This is because cities do not grow their own food due to lack of land nearby large cities. This is one of the causes of food inflation. As cities expand and India urbanizes there is lesser and lesser area to cultivate food for the masses.

What should be done?

The Government of India can adopt and promote Hydroponic crop cultivation in a big way to ensure our food security. The Government of India can setup an Advanced Farming Corporation (AFC), independently or a part of agriculture ministry. The AFC in partnership with various stakeholders like farmers' co-operatives, agriculture- universities and/or companies can set up massive hydroponics farms and facilities to grow food. Each million plus city (there are 46 such cities in India) can have its own hydroponics farms which will meet the needs of the residents of those cities. This will achieve many things

1.Since the start to production time is less, Banks will finance the hydroponics activities without a huge burden on Government. Since the returns are assured, private companies will be interested to participate. However, it is suggested that the Government keep controlling stakes [51%] because the food price control is a very important part of government policy.

2.Large cities will have their own food production units. This will ensure that food is not diverted from smaller towns and villages leading to better food availability in those areas. This will also reduce the cost of food transportation thus reducing pressure off food inflation.

3.High yield of food will be possible. In addition, hydroponics can be practiced at various levels in a method known as vertical farming. (It is a proposed system of growing crops in urban areas using specially designed skyscrapers.) By this process, the yield can be increased many times over.

The AFC can promote this technical knowhow to individual farmers. It can also facilitate the funding for individual farmers to set up hydroponic farms via banks and investment companies.

Better still; the AFC can collaborate with the Prefabrication Building Corporation (PBC-chapter 14) to setup prefabricated modules of hydroponic farms. There are two advantages in this partnership.

First, since these units are prefabricated they can be built in assembly lines on a large scale in massive numbers. This will achieve economies of scale reducing cost of setting up hydroponic farms.

Secondly, a large number of hydroponics farms can be setup in a very short time. This is very important if we have to usher in a new food revolution in our country.

Hydroponics can be made part of Common Community Projects. Hydroponics units can be made mandatory to any mass housing projects thereby assuring adequate food supply.

A separate research unit may be set up for hydroponics out of the profits gained through existing hydroponics systems,

wherein more economical and better ways can be devised to satisfy the hunger needs of our country.

The AFC can be given an initial seed capital of Rs.100 crores a year  for 5 years  for research,  design and to setup hydroponics farms across the country. Between 5-10 years, AFC will find its own resources following a profit oriented business model with a social outlook. By the end of around the 10th year, AFC can be self-sufficient financially where it will raise capital on its own.

India has world class Agriculture universities. These Agriculture universities (in partnership with AFC) can use biotechnology and develop new varieties of crops. These crops will be best suited to be grown via hydroponics. These crops will have high nutrient value and longer shelf life.

India can also help poor countries using the technology developed by the AFC.

Thus, hydroponics has immense potential to bring in a second green revolution which will ensure our food security. In the longer run, AFC can help in ensuring Food security for South Asia (SAARC nations) as a whole.

                                                                                        - Dr.Kartik Hegadekatti.

Dr.Kartik Hegadekatti is an Indian Civil Service officer presently serving in the Ministry of Railways in India. Views Expressed are Personal.

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