Grow­ing strong: The ur­ban kisans of In­dia

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - STARTUP STORIES - [email protected]­group.com

Ano­ti­fi­ca­tion on the phone draws your at­ten­tion to an ur­gent re­quest: “I am thirsty, give me wa­ter.” It’s not your el­derly par­ents or pam­pered tyke. It’s your new co­rian­der plant.

In a connected world, even plants will es­tab­lish a di­rect link. At least that’s the vi­sion of Hy­der­abad­based startup Ur­banKisaan.com, which was set up two years ago by 25-year-old in­no­va­tor Vi­hari Kanukollu, 47-year-old sci­en­tist-turne­den­trepreneur Sairam Palicherla and 47-year-old se­rial en­tre­pre­neur Srini­vas Cha­ganti.

The firm’s in­no­va­tive home kits help peo­ple grow food in their bal­cony by spending less than 10 min­utes a week on the task. Users get no­ti­fi­ca­tions on their cell­phones ev­ery week, re­mind­ing them of the ac­tiv­ity. The prod­uct was de­vel­oped at a-IDEA in­cu­ba­tor in ICAR-run Na­tional Academy of Agri­cul­tural Re­search Man­age­ment, Hy­der­abad.

Kanukollu told STOI how he came up with the idea dur­ing a visit to Sairam’s home for a med­i­ta­tion ses­sion.

“I heard wa­ter leak­ing on the bal­cony and stepped out to see if that was the case. To my sur­prise, I found he had con­verted the bal­cony into a sort of open lab­o­ra­tory, where he was ex­per­i­ment­ing with non­con­ven­tional ways of grow­ing plants,” he said. “As I was also in­ter­ested in the sub­ject, I joined him and we con­tin­ued ex­per­i­men­ta­tion on the bal­cony for more than six months be­fore seeking as­sis­tance at the in­cu­ba­tor.”

The fi­nal re­sult was home kits. “Our kits al­low peo­ple to grow pes­ti­cide-free pro­duce in ‘soil-less’ ver­ti­cal farms in bal­conies and with 95% less wa­ter. We have used hy­dro­ponic tech­nol­ogy [a method of grow­ing plants by us­ing min­eral nu­tri­ent so­lu­tions],” Kanukollu said. The kit com­prises hor­i­zon­tal pan­els with

cav­i­ties, in which co­conut coir and seeds are placed. The struc­ture is connected to a bucket of wa­ter through a pump and waters plants automatica­lly. Users only need to mix a set quan­tity of nu­tri­ent so­lu­tion in the bucket ev­ery week.

The kits, which cost be­tween `5,000 and `50,000 apiece, can be used to grow around 25 va­ri­eties of veg­eta­bles.

Ur­banKisaan.com sold 350 kits and, as a next step, it opened its first ver­ti­cal ur­ban farm atop a com­mer­cial build­ing on Ju­bilee Hills Road No. 36. It is spread over 2,000sqft.

“Every­one might not be in­ter­ested in grow­ing veg­gies at home. For them, we have ur­ban farms, where leafy veg­eta­bles can be bought. The food pro­duc­tion at our first farm is 10 tonnes per month, equiv­a­lent to what one would get from 1.5 acres of land,” Kanukollu said.

The firm plans to scale up the ur­ban farm con­cept by leas­ing space on rooftops. It is in talks with in­vestors to raise over `5 crore in the next quar­ter.

“Right now, we are a team of only 15. Once cap­i­tal flows in, the tribe of ur­ban kisans will also grow as we will reach out to fran­chise part­ners,” he said.

GREEN DREAM: (From left) Srini­vas Cha­ganti, Sairam Palicherla and Vi­hari Kanukollu

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