The Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) was in the news for developing and patenting the first indigenous Hybrid Hydroponic Technology (HHT), which claimed to reduce water wastage by 90%.

It was developed by Dr V P Sethi — the head of the department of mechanical engineering of the college — after dedicating three decades of his life to researching and developing sustainable technologies.

A former student and a university faculty member, Dr Sethi worked with a small team of scholars and scientists from the departments of botany, chemistry, soil and vegetable sciences for five years to come up with this technology.

It was during his postdoctoral fellowship in the US that Dr Sethi met with a Korean professor Dr Chiwong Lee, who worked in the field of developing hydroponics.

“He was working on the various substrates that can be used in hydroponics and I found it very intriguing. I decided to come back to India and develop our own hydroponics system,” he says.

It took Dr Sethi nearly five years to fully develop the HHT system and grow vegetables using it, and another five to get the patent rights, which he and PAU received in November 2021. Explaining how the technology works, Sethi says, “In Hybrid Hydroponics Technology, we save this water by using the technique of recirculation. We developed a porous plate between the pots.”

He continues, “The lower part of the pot contains the shallow water pond and the upper part of the pot carries the substrate. The plate between the two is the innovation as it carries equivalent pressure at both the upper and lower end of the pot.”

This allows the roots to breathe and grow, and from the top, they would get ample oxygen. Dr Sethi also sprays the required minerals and nutrients on the plants to ensure that the fruit is the best in quality.

Using HHT, the university has grown vegetables like tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers and capsicum. He developed a unique DIY drip irrigation technique that not only solves the problem of water shortage but also recycles waste.

The method is not labour-intensive like traditional farming as it is fully automatic. “We have timers that are set in advance that provide and sprinkle required nutrients according to the plant’s requirements,” he adds.

The professor wants to make the technology available to small farmers too. “If the cost is less, the technology automatically becomes more accessible. We are also in the process of making a manual for farmers and other users,” says Dr Sethi.

Following the motto of “sabka vikas” (development for all), he says, “India is a country of small land holdings and the technology is especially designed to accommodate small-scale farmers.”