Controlled Environment Agriculture - Next Generation Farming Practices and Opportunities!
India, a nation with over a million people and a civilization aggressively progressing to reclaim its podium place in the world, has changed its view of the world, from a land of snake charmers to a land of competent professionals and global entrepreneurs, a loud and clear growth story! While the rise of India’s economy is a focus for many across the world, what often goes unnoticed are the spots of inefficiencies in the agriculture sector and efforts made by Indian farmers to keep up with the country’s ever-growing population and provision of food security!
Agriculture landscape in India
Farming has been the backbone of the Indian economy, engaging almost half of its population. It has been part of Indian history, constantly providing food, employment, and raw materials over time. The country on its own has over a billion people, with diverse climates and cultures. This physical and cultural diversity is also seen in different states, agricultural practices, and patterns.
India has recorded a notable increase in agricultural productivity over the last few years. It has, remarkably, over 20 Agri-climatic regions with up to 60 soil types, making it the best fit and largest producer of certain foods, such as wheat, pulses, spices, milk, fruits, and vegetables, even with this productivity, negative climatic conditions impact on the increase in agricultural yield cannot be overlooked.
With over a million years of farming in India, many farmers still face problems of poor production, climatic disruption, low yield, compromised quality, and poor returns. Some important issues affecting Indian agriculture are:
- Suboptimal infrastructure for farming, making farmers more dependent on weather and external environmental conditions for high-value crops.
- Less or limited use of technology and mechanization.
- Limited access to a line of credit which affects the decisions of farmers in purchasing inputs and selling outputs.
The government push and other organizations are trying hard to address these key challenges of agriculture in India, which include supply chain improvements, efficient use of resources and marketing, primary and secondary processing, and most importantly the dependence on external climatic and environmental conditions, which brings us to a globally evolving practice of ‘Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA)’, involving multiple approaches for Indoor Agriculture and Vertical Farming.
The New Practice of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA)
The controlled environment agriculture or CEA as it is easily referred to is all about the production of crops and vegetables in an environment such as Greenhouse, Growth Chambers, or Vertical Farms that can be controlled for driving efficiencies and maximizing the productivity. While there are multiple advocacies for why CEA is better, a single line that is sufficient, is the fact that the growing conditions such as humidity, light, temperature, and nutrients input, are so much controllable that the inefficiencies in the traditional practices are nullified wholly.
The global CEA market is poised to grow and is estimated to reach USD 172,000 Million at a CAGR of 18% between 2022 and 2027. Europe is amongst the top market for CEA produce.
CEA solves some of the major climatic and supply issues such as water conservation, soil pollution, reducing cultivable land, yield reliability, and quality. While there can are multiple methods in which CEA can be practiced and put into life, a few prominent ones gaining more traction are Hydroponics, Aeroponics, Aquaponics, and Fogponics. A combination of these growing methods can be deployed in different environments of Indoor Farming, Greenhouse, Vertical Farming, or Protected Cropping.
Plants grown hydroponically are not planted in conventional soil, here, plants are submerged directly in nutrient-rich water in a soil-less environment with growth factors being, light, space, air, and water.
Hydroponic farming is defined as the greener approach to food production which facilitates production with less water and land. We can grow varieties of products using this method of farming, but leafy vegetables flourish best here, some of the crops best grown using this technique include spinach, herbs, broccoli, and basil etc.
This system of farming is like hydroponic farming because of its soilless growing technique. However, it involves growing plants through a nutrient-rich mist. Here, plants are suspended in pots in a way that allows the root to dangle in the air, the roots are then periodically sprinkled with nutrients while being exposed to light from another end.
One of the biggest advantages of aeroponics farming over hydroponics is the ability to grow root crops using this system.
This growing method is a very unique combination of hydroponics and aquaculture (raising fish). The ecosystem utilizes the waste from the fish (Fish waste is rich in Ammonium and Urea) to provision nutrients ask of the growing plant and vegetables. The water is then recycled back to the fish. This method involves the symbiotic existence of fast-growing fish such as catfish, trout etc.
This method is a level 2 of the aeroponics technique, with the only difference being that this technique focuses on using nutrient-rich water as vapors to the crop. The biggest advantage of this method is quick absorption of the nutrients and much-reduced wastage as well.
While there is so much to read and understand about these new farming techniques, there are certain myths about hydroponics and aeroponics farming, they include:
It requires specialized education: A lot of people think you need a background or special education in hydroponics and aeroponics to be able to harness this technology, it is helpful, yes, but it is not a requirement. Now, there are hydroponic and aeroponic container farms available, built to be plug-and-play systems that anyone can use. A lot of turnkey solution providers take up the job and provide the completely operational farm with end-to-end knowledge advisory on maintenance and day-to-day operations.
The crops taste different: Before falling for this trap, you can check it out yourself and let your tastebuds be the judge. Here, plants are provided with everything needed using nutrient-rich water in place of the soil. In some cases, most consumers reviewed those hydroponic greens taste better due to their freshness and non-contact with contaminants in the soil.
The uniqueness of hydroponic and aeroponic farming
This controlled system of farming has a better advantage over traditional farming, these benefits include:
Plants can be grown all year round: growing plants all year round isn’t possible in traditional farming due to extreme climate conditions but with this controlled system of farming, plants can be grown indoors all year round in a controlled environment, notwithstanding the season or climate change.
Less land usage: this system of farming helps minimize excessive land use. Traditional farming requires large acres of land for bugger yield, while controlled environment farming conserves space through vertical spacing and attacking of plants on top of another.
Efficient use of water resources: this system of farming uses up to 15 times less water than traditional farming by capturing and using water in a closed system, thereby making them water efficient.
Uses fewer chemicals: in hydroponic and aeroponic farming, it’s easier to keep a record of what goes into growing these plants. In other words, it requires fewer chemicals to grow because plants grow faster and are less stressed due to less pressure from pests.
Drivers that will shape the faster adoption of newer practices of farming in India
Several factors are influencing the future of agriculture in India, these trends call for immediate technology response to aid higher efficiency and productivity assurance.
Rising Entrepreneurship: With the unlocked entrepreneurial drivers in India, this becomes an excellent avenue for someone looking to start their business. With a lot happening on the demand side already, the supply assurance asks will enable the early entrepreneurs to succeed with CEA.
Food security: the world’s population is expected to grow to almost 10 billion in the next 20 years, increasing agricultural demand. This calls for hastening transitions in farming methods to ensure the demand is met adequately!
Poverty sustainability: agriculture has been a part of India’s economy, constantly providing employment as well as food security. With the growing population and increased demand for food, there has to be an increase in technological advancement and employment.
Climatic changes: this is the major factor in agricultural development. Certain crops are affected by climatic and environmental conditions, with the higher demand for agriculture, there is a need to adopt technology that will improve efficiency and a higher productivity without regard to climatic factors, the next wave of Agri growth could be witnessed from hydroponics and aeroponics farming practices.
Conservation of natural resources: with an increase in population, there’s also a direct increase in the usage of natural resources concerning air, water, and land, with hydroponic and aeroponic farming, these demands are made minimally available.
The Entrepreneurial opportunities and Success stories
- CEA promises a high ROI entrepreneurial opportunity for a wider spectrum of people. Whether you are looking to start a small business or be diverse in the growing food supply space, the returns will be favorable in the mid to long term.
- With numerous players providing the installation of CEA as a facility and hands-on technical knowledge sharing model ensures long-term sustainability.
- India currently imports roughly 80% of its exotic vegetable demands and this is growing at a sustainable rate of ~20% per year.
- With an investment of ~ 1cr for an acre of space, the farming venture boasts a promising ROI with growing demand.
This system of farming is believed to have unbelievable long-term benefits with provides some of the answers to India’s food security, sustainability, and economic problems. Feel free to share, ask questions or drop comments on hydroponics and aeroponic farming. We’ll be in the comment section.
If you wish to start a venture in controlled environment agriculture and require strategy and execution support to realize the project, let us speak. Just drop an email at [email protected] or book a discussion with us using link below.
Aventren is an India-based management consulting firm providing services for business consulting, digital commerce services, and managed services. With deep advisory knowledge and execution capabilities, we bring the right mix of skills and energy to support your business ambitions. Aventren is founded and led by ex-EY Professionals.
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