Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba was heavily dependent on the USSR for petroleum, fertilizers, pesticides and farm products. But when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and eventually sanctions were imposed on Cuba, the country was left in the lurch. According to cubahistory.org, the country lost nearly 80 percent of its imports and exports and the GDP plummeted by 34 percent.
The effects were seen almost immediately. There was acute food shortage. Calorie intake fell to less than half of what it was before. In such a situation, Cubans had no choice but to grow food themselves. Tiny pockets of land emerged all across the country. What started as a concept called Organoponicos is now being replicated around the world as a sustainable urban farming solution.
It’s as simple as converting your terrace, backyard or balcony into a small farm. And at a time when almost every fruit and vegetable being grown is sprayed with pesticides, what if you could control what goes into growing your food?
This is what inspired 26-year old Manvitha Reddy to start Homecrop – a startup that helps you grow pesticide-free vegetables at home. Reddy designs rooftop and backyard kits that have everything you need to make your own farm at home.
The main technique used here is square foot gardening. In areas as small as 15 square feet, Homecrop gives you a kit that includes a high intensity polystyrene trough, a leak proof support structure for trellis, a shade net, a mat for drainage, garden tools, natural growth enrichers and service from the Homecrop team.
Simple farming techniques used since ancient times are incorporated into building a home farm. For example, all of Homecrop’s farms are soil-free. Instead, Coco peat is used. This does not require much depth and it lets roots take in more nutrients and gives them more aeration.
The crops are irrigated using an age-old irrigation method called Olla’s where water is filled in clay pots, which are porous enough to let water seep through. This reduces the use of water by 60-70 percent letting you water the plant just once in every 2-3 days. Most importantly, rooftop gardens bring down a house’s temperature by a few degrees.
Reddy launched Homecrop in January this year with an initial investment of Rs 5 lakh. Ideation took a year under the guidance of National Academy of Agricultural Research Management (NAARM)’s incubator a-IDEA. The incubator helped her research various agricultural methods for her idea and provided her with access to vendors for the kit.
She started by catering to households and is now targeting gated communities. “There is so much unused space in a house or a gated community. The idea is to use whatever available space there is, to make edible landscapes,” Reddy says.
Homecrop currently offers two kits – the budget kit, which can be used for backyards at a cost of Rs 7,500 and the premium kit, which can be used for rooftops at a cost of Rs 15,000. With operations currently only in Hyderabad, Homecrop has so far covered 400 square feet.
Once it completes 300 installations, Homecrop will look at raising additional funds.
Homecrop is now working with NAARM to standardise the process. It is also coming up with kits for balconies in a month and a half. This will be a vertical self-watering tower on which one can grow up to 18 plants in an area as less as two square feet. Post this, Homecrop will launch do-it-yourself kits and expand operations nationally.
And if all of Homecrop’s efforts bear fruits, or vegetables, it hopes to break even in the next one year
(This story was first published in The News Minute.)