Battling obstacles to become self-reliant

SHILLONG: In an age when innovation becomes imperative to attain food self-sufficiency, 36-year-old, Rudy E Kharmawphlang, believed in himself and overcame umpteen obstacles to become self-reliant.
The young man had left Shillong, after his second-year BA, for Mumbai to work with British Railways for six years and later with United Airlines, but decided to return home in 2010.
“I started looking for a government job here but was disappointed to see that no matter how eligible one is, the backdoor entry is rampant. I started doing some businesses such as transport and real estate, but after three years, my business slumped because of the coal ban,” Rudy said.
But after doing some research in 2016, he came across the twin ideas of aquaponics and hydroponics, which is a sustainable method of farming fish and greens.
“I was glued to my desktop for months trying to get all the information, and finally I came across some people from Israel and Canada who believed in me and told me that I would be able to accomplish this dream,” Rudy said.
He became more passionate and serious when his acquaintances came all the way from Canada and Bangladesh to check out his project proposal.
“After that I realised that this would be a big project. So I decided to form a team of four people – one fabricator, two civil contractors, one marketing and one publicity person and myself to kick-start the operation,” Rudy said.
In 2017, he took his team to Dhaka for a five-day exposure trip to learn more about the technology. On their return, t hey decided not to waste time but start working immediately on the proposal.
“We submitted our proposal to the bank only to have it rejected on the excuse that it’s a high-risk project.  We then approached NABARD but were again disappointed as the bank said the project did not fit their existing schemes,” Rudy said.
They then approached NEDFi but here, too, they were disappointed.
Thereafter, they went to the fisheries department for help and submitted a proposal but were told that aquaponics and hydroponics were not in tune with their guidelines.
Finally, they went to the North Eastern Council but here, too, they had to route their application for assistance from the state government.
“It’s been over a year since we last submitted our proposal to chief minister’s office. Till date, there has been no response and this is the story of many young entrepreneurs, which defies the Prime Minister’s slogan ‘Vocal for Local’ and Atmanirbhar Bharat,” he said.
“It was then that I decided to start a small project in 2016. I decided to build a small system and procured hardware from Future Farms, Mumbai. After that, I started doing things all by myself, learning from videos on YouTube about aquaponics and hydroponics. Gradually, I got the hang of it. After a year on my small system (15 planter), I decided to try out on a bigger-size set-up,” he said.
“Since we had no garden or yard in our house, I turned towards the roof where I decided to set up the 1,200 planter which includes deep water culture (DWC) and nutrient film technique (NFT). I created this set-up on the roof so that I can experiment with it. Now the enterprise called Sawaiom Agro and Allied Products is producing and harvesting nice fresh vegetables every week. We grow kale, lettuce, Swiss chard, tomatoes, bell peppers, basil, broccoli, mustard leaves, strawberries, etc,” Rudy explained.
He said initially only the nutrients from the fish waste were used and the growth was amazing. Later, I used nutrients like NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), Secondary Nutrients and Micronutrients, etc.
“The best part about this technology is that it doesn’t rely on climate and we don’t use pesticides, herbicides, formalin or other harmful chemicals. All produce is fresh, clean, nutritious, organic and residue-free,” Rudy stated.
The size of the rooftop farm is just 300 sq ft and it is producing 1200 heads of greens, which include DWC and NFT.
The initial investment for a size of 300sq ft farm is approximately Rs 1.70 to Rs 1.80 lakh.
Rudy plans to begin commercial production soon with an initial production of 60 tonnes of fish annually and 180 to 200 tonnes of leafy greens annually.
Young entrepreneurs look to the government to hand-hold them, but Rudy says it is unfortunate that genuine projects are not selected.
“The initial investment is substantial but the returns are also quick and big,” he adds

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