E-Farms is Using Agri-Tech Innovation To Grow Organic Produce

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Madhu Khadka, the founder of E-farms wants to bring the idea of a “personal food computer” to Nepal. With the increased demand for organic produce that hasn’t been injected with suspicious chemicals and sprayed with harmful pesticides, his device offers a possible solution. 
The idea is to have a fully automated device where you add nothing but liquid fertilizer and seeds and while you’re busy with your everyday lives, it grows your produce for you. You know exactly what you’re putting into it and can now eat your fresh produce without any worries. He is also looking into doing the same thing on a large scale in the form of Vertical Farming which would also be an interesting new producer of quality produce in Nepal.
But as promising as it sounds, implementing the idea has been anything but easy. Here is what Mr. Madhu Khadka had to say about his agri-tech ideas. 

1. Could you give us a general introduction to E-farms? 
You may have already heard of the “Personal Food Computer” which grows plants and produce in a small box where the environment is completely controlled. The idea of E-farms was to have something like a fridge that was fully automated and all you’d have to do was reach in and grab your fresh produce. Even on a larger scale, if we used the same concept to construct a vertical farm, it would reduce work by at least 6 hours per day. However, there are limitations to what you can grow using this method like trees.

We thought it would be useful in a place like Kathmandu where there isn’t a lot of space to grow produce. Most people do have balconies which are where the device would be located. It uses hydroponics, which means we’re not using any soil. The plants grow in circulating water with liquid fertilizer in it which makes the system extremely efficient in terms of water use. But because it doesn’t use soil, there isn’t a strong surface to support larger plants. Growing underground or root vegetables is also difficult because of the water medium. 
Recently, we’ve decided to focus more on a large-scale operation i.e. vertical farms, that use the same technology. The basic idea is the same, it is efficient in terms of space and food quality, but it can be done on a much larger scale instead of in individual households. We have people interested in this because of the controlled environment aspect. Often people’s farms get contaminated by pesticides being used on adjacent farms. This way they have complete control over what their plants are exposed to. So it’s promising but we have yet to finalize the technology. 

2. What are some of the challenges you have faced so far? 
We wanted to have these devices available to everyone on their balconies but realized it wasn’t really feasible. The internal environment has to be controlled and by the time we installed all the sensors to do so, the whole unit became far too expensive. We decided that we should implement this on a large scale instead. So, the cost of everything, mainly acquiring the necessary devices and developing a good prototype, has been a major issue. 

3. What made you want to start E-farms? 
If you’re familiar with Samakhusi area then you might have seen the tarkari bazaar there. I was born there and grew up watching people buy and sell vegetables there. But eventually, organic stores started becoming more popular because people heard more and more about fruits and vegetables that were injected with chemicals or were exposed to harmful pesticides. So, something that costs 20 rupees then cost 150 rupees now just because it was organic. We wanted people to have a system in own their homes that allowed them to grow their own fresh, organic vegetables without spending the extra money on a regular basis.
Another thing that propelled me towards entrepreneurship was my experience after the 2015 earthquake. I was severely injured, went into a coma for 9 days and almost had to amputate my leg because of the injuries but after quite some time I was able to recover. In that situation, I started off because I had no other choice. No one was going to invest in me with all of the health issues I had. Before that happened, I was a runner up in the Microsoft Imagine Cup. It was a software competition where I was a runner up a day before the earthquake. It was difficult and devastating, but with the help of my family, I pushed forward. That’s how I started my journey into entrepreneurship. 

4. What are your future plans? 
We are trying to collect funding specifically for research and development so we can create a better version of this product. I think there is a demand for something like this, people say they need something similar but we don’t have an implementable product yet. I’m always open to contributions and collaboration with other people. I appreciate people with an entrepreneurial spirit. 
Whatever the future challenges might be it is important to have patience and not to lose hope. Apparently even Coca Cola only sold about three or four bottles the first two years after it started! I am involved in other projects but E-farm is my dream. I really want to see it because it has the potential to help a lot of people.
For more information about E-farms, connect with Madhu Khadka at khadka0madhu@gmail.com.

Interviewed and Article by Jyotika Shah
Edited by Yangzum Lama