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Students from TERI develop a soil-less unit that grows 50kg of Fodder daily

Lavkesh Balchandani and Souryadeep Basak, an engineer duo from TERI developed a cost-effective and energy-efficient hydroponic fodder unit to produce green fodder for livestock. The completely indigenous solution uses minimal water and no soil for the production of 50 kg fodder per day.

Over 70 per cent of the rural population in India depends on agriculture that contributes about 19.9% to the GDP. The country boasts vast livestock resources that provide a livelihood to two-third of rural communities. Despite this, rural growth in India is stagnant. It is partly due to the lack of proper power supply, feasible solutions, and transportation facilities. Thus, there is an urgent need to boost the growth of the agricultural sector by integrating it with novel techniques. Lavkesh Balchandani and Souryadeep Basak are young innovators who have designed a solar-powered hydroponic fodder unit that grows green fodder with 95% less water.

Lavkesh Balchandani and Souryadeep Basak, an engineer duo from TERI developed a cost-effective and energy-efficient hydroponic fodder unit to produce green fodder for livestock.

What is a Solar-Powered Hydroponic Fodder Unit?

The solar-powered hydroponic fodder unit is essentially an energy-efficient solution that produces green fodder for livestock. Based on a soil-less farming technique, this unit requires a minimal amount of water. It runs on solar energy that makes it highly suitable for off-grid areas. Moreover, it consumes only 0.5 units of electricity per month. The highlight of the product is its design and the time taken to generate fodder.

Souryadeep explains, “We wanted something that could be fabricated in a rural area itself. So, through our research eliminated complexities and tried making our solution simple and feasible.” The fodder unit is completely automated with a microcontroller at its heart. This makes it an easy solution for the differently-abled and women who are not well-versed with the know-how of technical systems. The modular solution acts as a socio-economic intervention by empowering regional farmers, widows, persons with disabilities, and other socially ostracised groups.

The solar-powered hydroponic fodder unit is essentially an energy-efficient solution that produces green fodder for livestock.

Construction of the Fodder Unit

The hydroponic fodder unit made of PVC pipes has a rack-like structure. Alternatively, bamboo and wood are good options. Souryadeep explains, “The crop cycle of seed-to-feed takes only eight days with zero down-time. Once you sow the seeds on level one, you get the harvest on the bottom shelf after eight days.” This ensures a continuous supply of fodder. The unit is automated using a microcontroller that interfaces a network of sensors and actuators. A smart cooling system, consisting of evaporative cooling, fans and sprinklers, turns on sprinklers and fans when temperatures go above a pre-decided set-point. The smart fodder unit, including structure and control systems, with a daily output of 50 kg green fodder. It is eco-friendly with pesticide-less farming and makes use of the sustainable use of water through rainwater harvesting.

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The 3-Stage Solution

The hydroponic fodder unit comes with sustainable three stages that enhance the productivity of the land. The initial stage includes introducing a hydroponic fodder unit in the village to increase the growth of green fodder and help in the sufficient supply of fodder for the livestock. The residue of dried hay from the first stage also works as a raw material for the next stage, i.e. mushroom cultivation. Different mushrooms can successfully sprout within smart grow units depending on the time of year. The third stage, greenhouse agriculture, includes creating a greenhouse for maturing exotic produce like vegetables, fruits and herbs. It requires a highly efficient supply chain for seamless movement from one stage to another. There would be an increase in the income and sufficient supply of fodder, mushrooms, and exotic products with minimal wastage and abundance of raw material.

Lavkesh and Souryadeep developed the hydroponic fodder unit for their Master’s project at the TERI School of Advanced Studies, Delhi. The idea of building something that could be assembled and used within the remote areas led the duo to design the innovation solution. Putting the concept of a circular economy to use, they came up with a simple and affordable unit that is completely indigenous and helps rural farmers who lack access to urban markets. However, the journey wasn’t easy for them. Souryadeep shares, “A lot of research and rounds of prototyping went into developing the fodder unit. The Internet helped us with loads of information and scientific literature to improvise our product.”

Contributions of hydroponic fodder unit in the climate emergency 

The agricultural sector contributes immensely to climate change as 39% of emissions come from conventional fodder production. India’s livestock population is about 536 million. For every 100 kg requirement of fodder, there is a deficiency of 63.54 kg. This hydroponic fodder unit can boost livestock productivity in India by beating the inadequacy of green fodder. It would also help in the lessening of importing fodder from other countries. Although the duo couldn’t conduct a pilot test owing to the second wave of covid, they are keen on doing it soon. Besides this, Souryadeep adds, “We would love to keep the technology open-source and let others utilise it to ramp up the production. After all, the end goal is serving society.”

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