PROFILES OF GRAMONNATI UDYAM TRAINEES
TRACK: AQUAPONICS AND ORGANIC FARMING
Aquaponics refers to any system that combines conventional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as snails, fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. In a normal aquaculture, excretions from the animals can accumulate in the water and increase toxicity. In an aquaponic system, water from an aquaculture system is fed to a hydroponic system where the by-products are broken down by nitrifying bacteria initially into nitrites and subsequently into nitrates which are utilized by the plants as nutrients. The water is then re-circulated back to the aquaculture system.
Aquaponics addresses three key concerns for food security for India in coming years. They are:
- High quality organic produce.
- Almost 90% saving of water for crops (compared to same amount of crops grown in conventional agriculture)
- Almost 6 times higher yield per unit of land. At present there are four full-time apprentices who are being trained in the methodologies of this new farming technique. Each of them comes from a different background with various degrees of the knowledge on conventional agriculture
The four Udyam Trainees in this track will eventually be able to undertake Aquaponics in their own land. Gramonnati is training them on one of the Aquaponics Farm, Gratitude Farms, close to Pondicherry. The training cum internship is hands-on with almost 90% effort on field. In due course, they will be trained on the basics of setting up micro-enterprise of their own. Once they acquire the skills and are confident, Gramonnati will arrange for agri-credit and finances for them to setup an Aquaponics farm on their own land in their villages.
Belonging to Kundam Tehsil, Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, a 28-year-old Lakhan Singh was the first to join the Gratitude Farm after training for 2 months at another Aquaponics farm in Shimoga, Karnataka. Lakhan dreamed of joining the army but was forced to leave education after Class 12 as his family needed more financial support. While the dream of military career remained unfulfilled, he focused on his second biggest passion. Belonging to a rural background, he had an intrinsic knowledge about growing plants and that is why he started working as a gardener in the homes of military officers in Jabalpur. His green fingers, positive outlook and diligent dedication to his work made him a valued employee and soon he was given employment at the Army mess.
After working there for 4 years, Lakhan began to look for new ways to develop his career, especially since he was now supporting a growing family consisting of his wife, two daughters, parents and younger brothers. It was at this juncture of life that he was spotted by Ved Prakash who apprised him about the new techniques of farming and invited him to join the project.
It took Lakhan a month to convince his family about the decision to give up a stable job and travel thousands of kilometres away to learn new skills and work towards a new and better future. During the introductory training in Shimoga, Karnataka, Lakhan conscientiously learned all the stages of Aquaponics farming and was ready to replicate the success of these farms as a trainee.
He has been working at the Gratitude Farm since the moment the farm was created as he helped in preparing the 6000 square feet of land for the system set up. His work includes erecting the greenhouse for germinating seeds to seedlings and then transferring them to the grow beds; managing the fish tanks—cleaning and maintaining the water salinity and optimal temperature; feeding and taking care of the thousands of koi and tilapia fish; assembling the nutrient-filled tubes for the saplings, setting up irrigation pipelines; and ensuring 24-hour supply of oxygen to the fish tanks.
Kumaravel is an army veteran from Vellore, Tamil Nadu who served for 22 years as a Havaldar for the Indian Army from the Madras Regiment. Due to health reasons he prematurely retired from the service and decided to pursue his livelihood with the second best proficiency he had — farming. He wanted however to do something over and above the conventional farming, which he knew would not provide the commensurate returns he required on his labour and investment. For this reason he decided to explore various modern ideas in agriculture before taking the plunge.
He left the Indian Army in January 2018 and renewed his old contacts, one of whom was Ved Prakash, an army veteran himself and a co-founder of the Gramonnati. Kumaravel joined the Gratitude Farm in June 2018 as a supervisor, braving new surroundings, inclement weather, thieving vagrants and unfamiliar new technology.
He lives on the farm and manages the roster of the full-time staff and visiting workforce such as electricians, plumbers, masons, etc. He also regulates the daily timetables of planting seeds and saplings, managing fish feed, ensuring round-the-clock electricity supply.
Kumaravel has unquestionable belief in the success of the Aquaponics technique and aims to make Gratitude Farm a model of a successful and prosperous agricultural enterprise. He wants the farm to be a training ground for many determined agrarians as well as other sisters and brothers from the armed forces who have to change their life’s trajectory midway, especially those who belong to rural background.
Vishnu Dev Yadav, a 26-year-old native of Darbhanga, Jharkhand, before finding his calling at the Gratitude Farm, tried his hands at a variety of jobs in different milieus. After dropping out of school in Class 9 due to adverse family circumstances, Vishnu started working at various farming jobs and learned many skills such as bee-keeping, horticulture, dairy farming, etc. He could not however take these up as an independent entrepreneur as these were investment-intensive fields and he did not have the financial resources to capitalize on his skills. When he turned 20, he moved to Ranchi and started working at a printing press. To make ends meet during the harvest season he would go back home to work on farms as hired labourer.
After getting married and becoming a father of three children, he realized he needed more stable sources of income to support his family. He decided to move to Pondicherry and began to work as a driver and personal assistant. His employer’s family was so impressed with his work ethics that they recommended him to Ved Prakash who enrolled Vishnu in the Aquaponics project with the aim of enabling him to one day become self-employed and train others in this field
Vishnu has already learned all the stages of Aquaponics farming and spends each day at the farm to gain more understanding of all necessary practices. He is focused on expanding his knowledge and skills and producing the best results in every work that he carries out throughout the day.
Vishnu is very passionate about sharing his newly acquired expertise with others all over the country. He would like to travel to the already existing and planned farms to train others who just like him are willing to undertake more than just conventional farming. His passion and dedication are truly inspirational.
R. Sarvanan, a 35-year-old native of Pondicherry with a B.Sc. degree in Agriculture from Karaikal is the latest valuable addition to the team. His education has enabled him to become familiar with various aspects of traditional agriculture and to facilitate the work towards further innovation in this field. Sarvanan’s experience in various agrarian studies such as agronomy, soil science, weather conditions and their impact on different kinds of plants, animal husbandry, statistics, biotechnology, etc., gives him a holistic idea of growing local crops, which he now practically implements at Gratitude Farm.
He is excited to see that a modern agribusiness such as Aquaponics is now being experimented on in his own town. With his daily observations, he believes that Aquaponics is going to be the future of farming all over the world.
He believes that a combination of breeding fish and then using the resultant bio-products for cultivation of plants is a win–win situation for both the farmers and the environment.