The corporate grind might help bring in cash, but for some, remaining close to nature is paramount. Rohit Gupta (28) found himself among the latter when he quit his software engineering job to take up farming.
“I never regretted my decision to quit my IT job,” he says, adding, “I’m proud to be part of the farming system, and help farmers, who are the real heroes of the nation.” Rohit sells 25 tonnes of seafood in a year, and produces over 200 kg of vegetables in a week.
The engineer first heard about aquaponics from his uncle, Commander Raman Kumar Agrawal (retd), while still working at an IT company in Mumbai. “I didn’t have any knowledge of sustainable farming methods like aquaponics, which allows one to breed fish and grow vegetables using just one system. My uncle told me about it, and said that it can fetch good income as well,” Rohit tells The Better India.
He visited different research centres to learn more about aquaponics. Once he gained enough confidence to start a farm, he quit his job in Mumbai, and moved to his native town in Punjab, in 2018.
With help from his uncle and cousin Saurabh Agrawal, Rohit opened Aarpun Farms in Lambra village in Jalandhar district. The location of the farm, which spans over 2.25 acres, was decided keeping in mind operational and commercial advantages — it provides easy and quick access to both farmers as well as consumers.
“My uncle, who is a senior defence officer with vast administrative and operational experience, has always motivated the youth in Jalandhar to take up agriculture. Saurabh was also working with various start-ups and NGOs in Mumbai to provide relief to local communities and farmers in drought-hit regions of Maharashtra. That’s how we decided to start Aarpun Farms,” Rohit says.
A longer shelf life
On his farm, Rohit cultivates exotic green leafy vegetables such as spinach, iceberg lettuce, mint, romaine lettuce and broccoli. Beetroots, cauliflowers and capsicums are also grown on the farm. The only manure added to the fruits and vegetables is water containing fish waste.
He says a major benefit of aquaponics is the shelf-life of the products. “Our products last three to four times longer than those produced from regular cultivation. The production from aquaponics is 10 times more than that from traditional farming,” he explains, adding, “I have 1,000 tomato plants in the farm, and a single plant, I get eight to nine kilograms of tomatoes. So essentially, from one plant’s fruit, I get around Rs 400.”
“We also grow fruits, including papayas, watermelons, cherry tomatoes, and regular tomatoes. We make sure we pack our produce keeping in mind all safety measures. The entire farm is sanitised regularly, and no outsiders are allowed to enter. We use gloves to pack the produce as well, before we deliver it to our customers’ doorsteps,” Rohit says. The products are sold at different outlets and stores across Jalandhar.
‘The backbone of Aarpun’
“I also breed fish at the farm, and its waste is used as manure for my vegetables and fruits. Fish and fish waste are essentially the backbone of my farm. The technique of aquaponics works around a bio-system that involves fish,” Rohit explains.
Fish waste is converted into nitrite, which in turn is made into nitrates on the farm. These nitrates help plants grow quicker than they would under normal cultivation. “After fish waste is collected, it is purified and mixed with the water that we use for the plants. This is the plant’s single source to gain all the nutrients it needs. As the water level decreases, we add freshwater in the fish tank from outside,” he says.
Rohit says there are around 50,000 rohu and murrel fish on his farm. “The approximate price of one fish is Rs 130. So, we get over Rs 21 lakh from 100-square metres of the fish pond. There is more demand for our fish, as it is fresh and tastes good. There are no salt-water fish on our farm,” he adds. The fish is sold to local vendors and fast food stalls.
Helping farmers earn more
Aarpun Farms gives free lessons on aquaponic techniques to farmers to help increase their income. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, over 15 farmers from different parts of India used to visit the farm to learn about this technique.
“The aquaponics model is famous in countries like Singapore, the US, and Israel, but not so much in India. Many farmers here don’t have enough information about it. The technique uses approximately 90 per cent less water as compared to traditional agriculture. The water is rarely changed since it’s recycled over and over. We want to help local farmers earn a good income from cultivation using aquaponics,” Rohit says.
Aarpun Farms also plans to set up similar projects around the city and spread more awareness among people about aquaponics.
Aarpun Farms can be contacted here: 83605 97323
(Edited by Divya Sethu)