The areca nut, commonly known as the betel nut, is popular in India and is consumed across the country. Additionally, its production is crucial for states like Kerala, Karnataka and Bengal as the growers depend on it for their daily wages.
The areca nut tree grows as tall as a coconut tree—approximately 30 feet—and sustaining the growth of the nuts, is a huge dilemma for farmers.
Here’s a fun fact: The betel nut is not a true nut; it is botanically classified as a berry!
One of the main precautions that farmers take before the monsoon season is to spray copper sulphate to protect the crop from fruit rot disease. However, due to the twin problems of labour shortage and the height of the trees, it is a tortuous task.
Three years ago, during an interaction with growers, P Chowdappa, the Director of the Kasaragod-based Central Plantation Crops Research Institute (CPCRI), was asked for a solution to this issue.
Well, the good news is that CPCRI has come to the aid of the farmers and is ready with two innovative prototypes—a tractor with a mounted sprayer and a drone. Both these models were recently showcased in Vittal, a village in the Dakshina Kannada district.
Chowdappa told BusinessLine that the tractor-mounted sprayer developed by CPCRI in collaboration with ASPEE Agriculture Research and Development Foundation can spray the copper sulphate solution up to a height of 100 feet. He also claims that the tractor can carry out the spraying operation with just worker.
In case the farmers practice intercropping, i.e., grow the areca nut crip along with two or more crops at the same time, the tractor-mounted sprayer is not an ideal solution. This is when the drone comes in handy.
CPCRI in collaboration with the Bengaluru-based General Aeronautics Pvt Ltd designed a drone with a 15-litre tank capacity that can cover strips of the ground measuring 3.5 metres.
General Aeronautics is a start-up incubated by the Entrepreneurship Centre of Indian Institute of Science. Abhishek Burman, its founder-director and Chief Executive Officer, told Business Line that the original design of the drone was for paddy and wheat crops, but it has been configured for the areca nut crop. It takes about four minutes to spray a field measuring one acre, and the drone can cover three-four acres in one run. Burman also added that the start-up would work with CPCRI to perfect the drone mechanism.
The showcase aimed to incorporate feedback from farmers and test the prototypes to evaluate their performance.
On CPCRI’s collaboration with the startup, Burman said “CPCRI needs expertise in electronics and mechanical engineering. That is why CPCRI is collaborating with other partners.”
When minds come together to come up with solutions, the resulting innovations have the potential to not only change well-established trends but also create better and more sustainable models for everyone.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)