How this start-up is pioneering sustainable farming in India

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Published: April 1, 2019 2:04:18 AM

Initially supplying its produce in small quantities to one hotel and one retail store, it now supplies fresh produce to a varied clientele that includes hotels and retail stores.

Red Otter Farms is often asked what it plans to do next.

Red Otter Farms was born with an aim to fulfill the two-fold mission of its founders. One, to make locally produced, high-quality, chemical-free fresh food easily accessible to consumers. Second, to find a sustainable solution to farming practices. “Our first commercial aquaponics farm has been set up in Kotabagh in Uttarakhand. It is one of India’s largest aquaponics farm as well as the first of its kind in Uttarakhand,” says Anubhav Das, founder of Red Otter Farms. “Aquaponics, as a modern-day farming technique, is helping develop local food systems.”

As a photographer and social documenter, Das had travelled across villages of India for a decade. “The farming methods had not evolved at all. They made meagre sums of money and were always struggling to increase yields due to inefficiency of methods and water problems,” he says. “About six years ago, I decided to become a farmer. Twelve months of ploughing a field reminded me of my previous observations. I started researching on alternative methods of farming. I learned about aquaponics, an emerging technology with the potential to revolutionise farming. Then began the story of Red Otter Farms,” he says.

Red Otter Farms is a 10,000-sq ft commercial aquaponics farm in Kotabagh near Nainital. Nestled in the shade of the Corbett forest, not far from “Choti Haldwani” —Jim Corbett’s home – the farm is a pioneer in bringing the commercial application of aquaponics to India.

Aquaponics is a method of food production that combines raising fish (aquaculture) with soil-less growing of plants (hydroponics) by creating a symbiotic ecosystem. The water is an aquaponics system is re-circulated on a continuous basis with zero-discharge. The aquaponics cycle reduces water requirement by over 90% as compared to conventional soil-based agriculture. Established in a controlled environment, it is a completely chemical-free mode of farming.

“We were not perfect from the start. Running an aquaponics farm is much like conducting an orchestra, and it takes some time, patience and skills to conduct it. While I may not have become a maestro yet, the past three years of learning, experimenting and commercially growing produce have given me a great sense of accomplishment,” he says.

At Red Otter Farms, over 20 varieties of greens and vegetables are grown. The research wing is working constantly to collect data to improve efficiency and to introduce new products. Starting from a yield of 10 kg a week, it now produces more than 100 kg a week in the same area. Initially supplying its produce in small quantities to one hotel and one retail store, it now supplies fresh produce to a varied clientele that includes hotels and retail stores. Says Das: “We recently introduced a subscription-based weekly pack of curated salad greens for homes in South Delhi and Gurugram. We feel excited about the initial success we are witnessing.”

Red Otter Farms is often asked what it plans to do next. “For us, it is about replacing the chemical-ridden food on our plates with clean produce. We believe we can harness the potential of aquaponics to produce chemical-free food and make it easily accessible for more people,” says Das. Aquaponics is already a commercially successful concept abroad and Red Otter Farms has adapted it to the Indian context, he adds. “Our wish is to now work with like-minded stakeholders to make this a food revolution,” he says.

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