Though Nepal is an agricultural country, the contribution of agriculture in national GDP is declining day by day. Commercialization of agriculture has been limited within the papers. We are highly depending on the southern block for daily consumed vegetables and those grown within the country contains a high amount of pesticides.
In such scenario, three budding entrepreneurs from Kathmandu have started a company, AeroRoots Pvt. Ltd., with the aim of modernizing agriculture in Nepal. A soil-free farm which ensures higher yield and less investment of resources and manpower may sound like a tale, but the implementation of Aeroponic technology is making it possible a day after another.
“Though it may seem new to the Nepali society, Aeroponic technology was devised by NASA in the early nineties. We use specifically designed drums containing electronic sensors and circuits that automate the process. Seeds or saplings are grown over a sponge affixed in the compartments connected to the drums. The nutrients are prepared as per the seed or saplings. All you need to do is put the necessary nutrients and run the water to the drum. The drum controls the supply of essentials to the plants and regulates its growth. Till date, we have successfully grown 19 different vegetables using this technology.”-Caesar Rana, Director, AeroRoots Pvt. Ltd.
The Journey of Eleven Months
When these three young minds first came up with an idea, they were surrounded by the speculations whether their work would yield the results. But they had the faith in technology. They chose Caesar Rana’s home at Kalanki to set up their experimental farm.
“We first planted 150 sample plants and only one could survive. Our second attempts also didn’t go as expected. We might have given up but we were so determined that we went on improvising the methods and technology. In our team, we had no one coming from agricultural background leaving us at a disadvantage. However, our plants grew so well in the third attempt that we had to cut some to enter our greenhouse,” shares Caesar Rana adding, “The tomatoes boosted our confidence as the production was triple than that of ordinarily grown tomatoes.”
After the success in Kalanki, works have been already started to make a farm in Godhavari and a lab within their office in Baneshwor. AeroRoots was started with initial investments of 50 lakhs which already scaled up to 70 lakhs.
Business Model: AeroCommercials and AeroRoofs
The company has two clear plans to reach the costumers. Within a month, a farm in Godavari will come into operation. Once the plants there give the outputs, they want to sell this to the people. Talking to Glocal Khabar, Biplove Singh, CEO of AeroRoots Pvt. Ltd. said, “We are sure that the farm in Godavari will give sufficient vegetables to take into the market. We are planning to open outlets in different places and we assure that the vegetables will be sold at a reasonable price. Saying this, we don’t intend to challenge the existing market, instead make the healthy and nutritious vegetables more affordable.
The costumers also have the option to grow the vegetable using Aeroponic technology within their home. As many as eleven drums are sold already and they have received the order for another 20 drums. Each drum cost Rs.75000 and a maintenance cost of around Rs.20000.” Our technicians visit the clients periodically, for servicing and planting the samplings for a year. Later we teach the owner to do everything on their own,” opined Rana.
Benefits and Challenges
“First of all, the vegetables we grow are completely free from pesticides. The vegetables that we are consuming today contain more pesticides than the nutritional value. We started with a clear roadmap, ‘to provide pesticide-free vegetables make eradicate the use of it completely.’ Similarly, our products are more delicious and carry higher nutrition. The plans grow quicker and the yield is always high.”-Biplove Singh
Among the residents of Kathmandu, the drums can be very advantageous. One can grow any crops of their choice and they get the harvest real soon. In a situation where people are forced to pay an expensive price for the vegetables, a onetime investment can lessen the economic burden for years. The method is not as time demanding than the usual agricultural techniques since two minutes time of an individual is enough to check the level of nutrition and water.
No investments should be done to hire manpower as all the processes are automated. A single drum uses less than one percent of water and electrical consumption for a month is equivalent to that consumed by a laptop.
The same technology in other countries uses LED bulbs for the lights. Here in Nepal, we have access to abundant sunlight throughout the year.
Additionally, the consumers need not worry about the diseases and worms. Firstly, the plants aren’t grown on the soil which leaves behind possibilities of soil-based diseases. Secondly, they are covered with the plastics to prevent from the insects and other infections.
Despite the advantages, AeroRoots has a big challenge to convince the people. People habituated with the traditional farming may not easily adapt to the techno-based model. Also, importing the technical part (which are not available in the country) can become a problem.
“We aspire to reduce Nepal’s dependency over the neighboring countries for vegetables and help the people grow healthy vegetables on their balcony.”
Disappointed with the perspective of people regarding agriculture, Singh vows that his group will work to make farming and agriculture a respected profession. Similarly, his partner Caesar Rana sees the possibilities of Aeroponic technology in the districts of the mountain region. “In the places like Mustang and Namche Bazar, it is very hard to grow vegetables. Those taken from nearby districts are very expensive. If we could experiment our idea in those places, we may get the good results,” adds Rana to highlight the future scope.
To the Aspiring Entrepreneurs
While you spend time complaining and criticizing, ask yourself if you really completed your duties. Our country is full of opportunities. Don’t wait for anyone to make you do. Our country is in need of entrepreneurial minds more than ever. Act quick, it’s the youths to change the face of this nation.
Startups for Better Nepal
Presented By: Prashant Bhandari