An idea to grow vegetables on your rooftop using aeroponics technology

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Alish Bista is currently studying electrical engineering at Pulchowk Campus and aims to offer people in Kathmandu the option to grow their vegetables in their own roof using aeroponics technology. Along with this, he also aims to make people less dependent on vegetable imports that can be grown in the country itself. As a finalist of Udhyami Yuva Challenge, we got to talk to him more about his idea, its inspiration, further plans and so on. Read on to find out what he had to say.

1. Let’s start with what your idea is all about. Can you tell us about it in brief? What was your inspiration behind it?
I have named this idea as Maali whose basic concept is to provide an efficient rooftop farming facility using aeroponics technology. This technology helps in growing plants and vegetables without requiring soil and constant attention as the system is almost fully automated. Our main intention with this is also to help people consume pesticide free vegetables so this technique allows them to grow organic produce in their own rooftop. So, that’s the gist of it. Likewise, we plan to expand and reach farmers with this service too, which they can use in their big farms too but that’s for the future, as we focus on rooftop farming for now.

As for inspiration, there was actually a series of events that triggered me to work on this idea. My family always had a vegetable garden where we’d grow essentials and consume but after moving to Kathmandu, I had to buy everything from the market. Most of them were chemical infused too. As the city is so congested, there’s hardly any space to grow vegetables of your own other than a few herbs and greens. Six months ago, while brainstorming ideas to get rid of this problem, I came across aeroponics and vertical farming and that clicked. We could actually use this technology to grow produce in the roofs where there’s plenty of space. Plus, it would also go with the busy lifestyle that people have here as this technology doesn’t require constant attention from the grower. 

2. How far are you with this idea? Is the technology already in place?
I’m still at school and haven’t been able to take this idea further as it requires a lot of research and funding. Regardless, I have a good experience as project leader so I’m confident that once I have the necessary resources to start out, I’ll be able to pull this off. Firstly, we’ll need to make a prototype and test it and the rest of the processes will follow after. 

3. You’ve also mentioned that you’ll be using apps to notify users about their vegetables. Can you give more information on how you’ll be doing this?
Yeah actually we wanted to make this system similar to the games we used to play that involved taking care of a farm. We sow something and get notifications later after it has been grown. Ours will be somewhat similar. For example, seeds need different kinds of nutrient mix. We can track when it’ll grow and what kind of progress it is going to have and when. So, we’ll be sending notifications about all that information through an app which we can make at a low cost because we’re engineers ourselves. 

4. Who are your target customers?
Our primary targets are those interested in terrace farming. As we grow, we’ll be targeting restaurants and convince them to use this technology to grow all of the necessary vegetables in house. This will help them in marketing and gaining people’s trust regarding health. Then we can target farmers who can use aeroponics/ vertical farms.

5. What kind of opportunities do you see for your company?
Firstly, people are very concerned about what they eat nowadays so we can target them with our service. The other thing is that there are so many houses being built everyday resulting in less free landscape for farming. We believe that we will not plant in acres, we will plant in sq mtr. There is no space in the land but a lot of space up. That’s why we think we have a lot of opportunities. One family will not have to go to the market to buy greens and also be organic. Families who want organic food on the table will be able to get those kinds of food through our service.

6. If you start out in this company, what are the challenges you might face?
A lot of people aren’t aware of this technology for now. Plus, we only have basic knowledge so we’ll need to learn from Aeroroots because they have acquired a lot of knowledge. We have to put a lot of effort to make it very accessible to customers because aeroponics is expensive. Unless few people try and engage in word-of-mouth about this service, we will have a lot of challenges. We’ll need a lot of cash reserves for some time because in the beginning, the sales are going to be very minimum.

7. How was your experience at the UYC bootcamp?
I wasn’t able to attend the first session on goal setting because of my poor internet connection but I was able to attend the rest of them. Before this bootcamp, I was very confused about company registration, but now I feel like I have clearly understood the process. I think the session on communication was also really good as I’ll have to present in front of a lot of people. Needless to say, all the trainers had interesting things to say that I wasn’t aware of before. 

8. Did you think any other topics could’ve been covered?
I think a session on mock presentation or brainstorming ideas would have benefited us but I guess the idea showcase after each session fills up for that. All in all, the bootcamp was awesome, given the times we are now. 

For more information about this idea, please connect with Alish at 073bel304.alish@pcampus.edu.np

Interviewed and article by Yangzum Lama.