World Environment Day: 12-year-old girl's hydroponics kit facilitates urban gardening
Bhumi Chheda, a 12-year-old student from SVKM JV Parekh International School in Mumbai, has set up Vatika, a hydroponics venture that makes growing and maintaining a kitchen garden easy for space-strapped families.
On World Environment Day, it’s time to relook at our choices and see what we can do to make our planet greener.
With forest areas depleting and climate change affecting almost entire parts of the world, each one planting a tree alone is not enough. We must look at ways in which we can do sustainable farming and contribute towards the environment.
And sometimes, the young can teach us in more ways than we can imagine.
Bhumi Chheda, a 12-year-old from SVKM JV Parekh International School in Mumbai, has set up Vatika, a hydroponics venture, after attending sessions of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) at her school.
An avid gardener, she read about hydroponics in National Geographic’s special April 2019 issue and loved the concept.
“At the same time, I also read that in the past 95 years, India has lost approximately 16 percent of its forest cover and more was being lost year after year. I wanted to come up with a venture that would contribute towards the environment and sustainability,” she says.
Hydroponics is a relatively small market in India. It involves gardening without soil and creating a more efficient and trustworthy environment for plants to grow in. The systems include spraying water directly on the roots or passing water in a canal-like elevated structure in intervals.
Growing fruits and vegetables hydroponically is growing increasingly popular around the world because it uses resources like space artfully. Food grown hydroponically also tastes better as it is organic and the plant is nurtured more by suspending the roots in the air, giving it more oxygen that it can get in the soil.
The global hydroponics market size is about $2 billion, and is projected to grow to almost $6 billion by 2025.
Gardening without soil
Bhumi explains, “Vatika is a soil-less efficient home gardening kit using the aeroponic system (a type of hydroponic system) available in three different models.”
The kits are varied. One of them has cuttings of plants, the second has flower seeds, and the third comprises vegetables and herbs. According to the young entrepreneur, the kit requires very little maintenance; it needs only sunlight and the water has to be changed regularly.
Bhumi used the Rs 40,000 she won as first prize at the YEA! investor panel to develop the kits.
She plans to either sell the finished product to customers by assembling it in their premises or as a DIY kit. She emphasises on the convenience factor.
“Hydroponics makes farming possible for a family of three living in constrained spaces. Using the technique, they can easily grow 100 plants and harvest three kinds of fresh vegetables every day.”
Bhumi has planned three revenue streams: one through sale of kits, other through maintenance, and finally consumable sales. She will sell directly to customers via social media marketing and through nurseries. The prices of the kits begin from Rs 3,000 and go up to Rs 5,000.
She plans for another revenue stream as on add-on later - a subscription-based service for those with very little knowledge of hydroponics. Under this, she will assign the user with an agronomist who will take care of their plants and monitor once a week.
“At YEA! there were a lot of discussions that helped me get different perspectives for mu product. I was the first to make a prototype and that helped me get valuable feedback early on to improvise the product. During the YEA! Investor Panel and the YEA! Tradeshow I was able to educate many students and adults about hydroponics and it was an eye-opener for so many,” she says.
Bhumi’s biggest challenge, however. was assembling the parts for her prototype. Now, she has not only managed to get credible vendors, but has also ensured that the entire system is reusable. For example, the watering system originally had misting nozzles; she thought cycle valves could be used instead but now there are holes in the PVC pipe and they work just as well.
In addition to selling her products, Bhumi wants to conduct awareness sessions at various schools and in societies to spread the love for gardening. She wants to promote hydroponics as a new and more sustainable way of growing plants and vegetables.
“Combined with drought conditions and the vagaries of global warming, Indian agriculturalists are fighting a drastic reduction in the availability of locally grown food for India's large population. My venture is a small effort to raise awareness on this important issue,” Bhumi says.
(Edited by Teja Lele)
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