Growing strong: The urban kisans of India
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