It was quite long back that Caesar Rana and Biplove Singh had realised that while people’s standard of living had risen, the quality of vegetables available in the market had significantly dropped. Hence, they founded AeroRoots 28 months ago with the vision to create a platform for a pesticide-free tomorrow.
“We realised the use of pesticides in vegetables was quite staggering and started to question one another if the vegetables we were consuming were safe,” shares Singh.
Rana and Singh then started playing with the idea of growing one’s own vegetable and they felt the rooftop farming technique could work in Kathmandu. However, as both came from the management background, they had to do a lot of research.
“After doing some research, we found out about ‘soilless’ farming and aeroponics. We felt that the idea of growing vegetables in the air was quite extravagant. But, we knew it could be done because we were using the same method NASA had created it in the 1990s,” adds Singh.
Hit and trial
In 2017, Rana and Singh designed a system with over 150 plants and put it at Rana’s house. “At that point, we were in a hit and trial process. We didn’t know if our system would work,” shares Rana.
Of the 150 plants they had planted, only one survived. But the survival of one plant was enough to give the two partners the boost to continue the project which they started as a dream.
“The one plant that survived gave us the confidence that we were heading on the right path. Had that plant not survived, I don’t think AeroRoots would have existed today,” shares Rana.
Since then AeroRoots has come a long way. Learning from their mistakes, they have till date created four systems, each upgraded and better than the other.
The cofounders also share that they not only want to create a pesticide-free tomorrow, they also aim to revolutionise agriculture in Nepal. The company through its system is paving way for a soilfree farm which ensures higher yield and less investment of resources including the workforce.
In one of the systems which costs Rs 75,000, the plant roots are suspended in the air and are provided with all necessary water and food through a cloud of nutrient solution. The nutrient cloud is created by using ultrafine mist nozzles and a high-pressure pump carefully timed to turn on at predetermined intervals.
Both Singh and Rana add that there are many advantages to aeroponic growing.
“Our system doesn’t use much water. We use 1 per cent of the water used in traditional farming and our system also eliminates the need for harmful pesticides, fungicides and insecticides when carefully maintained,” adds Rana. He also says that aeroponics also allows for faster than normal growth because nutrients and water are always easily accessible to the roots.
“We have grown spinach, bok choy, tomatoes, chilly, beans, bottle gourd and different herbs till date,” Rana continues.
One of their clients, Sunita Shakya, only recently installed their system and is looking forward to picking vegetables from the system. “I met them at an exhibition and was instantly interested. My family was a bit sceptical at first; but not as they see vegetable growing on the system, they are quite positive,” adds Shakya, who shares that AeroRoots also provides training and send their personnel to check on the system twice a month.
Even though they have created a platform for easy rooftop farming, the business hasn’t been as great as expected. Their major challenge has been convincing people. “It was hard to convince both the rural and the urban audience till date. Changing their mindset if tricky because everyone is in their own comfort zone,” adds Singh.
He says people living in urban areas don’t want to do it because everything is easily available. The ones in rural area have been used to getting their hands dirty, and they don’t want to come out of that phase.
“We will need influencers if we are to push this in the rural market. The rural farmers will find it hard to come up with the capital needed for our product, which is why we plan to work with the government to solve this problem,” adds Singh.
Singh also adds that people are slowly getting to know about their product and there has been interest from all over Nepal. They have been actively pushing their products in events hosted by Vegetable Development Directorate Nepal and Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC). “These events have been a boon for us. I’ve personally talked to over 200 farmers about how our products can make farming easy and better for them,” adds Singh.
He says the company is grateful that the government is now helping them. Last year, the Ministry of Agriculture, impressed by the system, offered a grant of Rs 1.7 million and the Ministry of Youth and Sports also offered Rs 500,000 interest-free loan.
Aeroponics is on its way to becoming the future of farming. Rana shares that currently AeroRoots is up to par with the world’s aeroponics research and development. “We can claim that we are not behind any other company. Like them, we are facing problems and coming up with solutions in similar manners,” states Rana.
AeroRoots also plans to take its technology in extreme surroundings. “We want to test our product in both hilly and plain regions. We want to be able to grow Himalayan herbs in the Terai and Terai vegetables in the Himalayas,” claims Rana.
Both Rana and Singh are hopeful and believe that they are bringing transformations in agriculture.