Former Naval Officer’s Turmeric Revolution
The lockdown because of the Covid-19 virus proved to be a blessing in disguise for the retired naval officer CV Prakash.
He utilised the period to herald an “Orange Revolution” in the country, which, in reality, is Turmeric Revolution.
An expert now making turmeric (Curcuma longa) more profitable for the ordinary farmer, his ongoing Mission Turmeric 2021 aims to begin an “orange revolution”, he says, by teaching people to cultivate the spice in grow bags (large porous containers made of high density polyethelene) packed with coco-peat (made from the pith of the coconut husk) instead of soil, in shade houses.
Incidentally, Prakash has trained over 10,000 people in cultivating different crops using hydroponics and other soil-free alternatives at his CV Hydro training centre, which functions under the auspices of Aggragannya Skills, Bengaluru.
Interestingly, upon his retirement, he had migrated to Australia in 2001. He learnt the technique of Hydroponics from the best of growers, consultants and resource people in the Hydroponics Industry in Australia and came back to India in 2008 to be an ardent proponent and pioneer of this futuristic science in India.
With the lockdown bringing things to a standstill last year, and being unable to travel to Australia as usual, Prakash finally had the time to research the cultivation of turmeric.
Analysis of the crop in its sixth month by the Eurofins Lab, known for its work in bio-analytical testing, showed a curcumin content of 5.91% — nearly double of what it would be in a nine-month growing cycle. “Normally Salem turmeric does not give more than 3% curcumin content, so this was an eye-opener,” Prakash told the Hindu newspaper.
Curcumin is a bright yellow phenolic compound that has been in the news for its potential to fight cancer. As a result, the demand from pharmaceutical companies for high curcumin turmeric has risen to 58% of the global market share in recent years, according to research cited by the Trade Promotion Council of India.
The increased yield was another breakthrough. “In the sixth month when we harvested the crop prematurely, we got 4.45 kilograms of turmeric from one single grow bag. At the end of the seventh month, we had 6.44 kilograms, and in the final harvest, we got 8.17 kilograms of turmeric from a single plant,” told the Hindu.
As a bonus, no traces of heavy metals were found, making the crop a saleable product from the get-go. “Erode farmers usually get 500-600 grams of turmeric per plant in conventional farming. Our method gives a bigger yield, and its high curcumin rate makes it a valuable cash crop for farmers,” says Prakash.
“When you grow turmeric on a field, in a harvest of around seven tonnes, at least four tonnes are wasted due to poor quality or pestilence. In our method, not even a milligram of turmeric went bad. This has got to do with many factors, because soil-less agriculture is a very deep science. But I’m still not happy; the yield can definitely be 10-11 kilograms per grow bag,” says Prakash.
Launched in January 2021, Mission Turmeric 2021 currently has a growing area of 1,28,000 square feet. Around 15 pilot projects featuring eight varieties of turmeric are underway in stretches of 500 and 1,000 square feet growing areas, while three ventures based on one acre each, are looking at commercial cultivation.
“We have trained 18 people in Mission Turmeric 2021 through webinars, and have started a ‘watch and learn’ programme for people who could not make it to this year’s growing season (which began in May). I will be mentoring the applicants, besides sharing video lesson on all aspects, from pre-seeding to harvest,” says Prakash.
Growers from different parts of India who are part of the project have to observe and report parameters like leaf length and width, stem diameter and height of the plant daily to Prakash. “All the monitoring is done by pure observation. I am a very conservative farmer; I believe you cannot remove the human from the equation in agriculture,” says Prakash.
To encourage farmers, CV Hydro has been offering to buy back the turmeric, with rates ranging from ₹18 per kilogram of finger wet rhizomes up to ₹100 per kilogram for dry polished mother rhizomes.
“If the cost of production is ₹12 per kilogram, and the wet turmeric finger rhizome is sold at ₹20, then the gross profit is ₹8 per kilogram in India. But international pricing of this miracle plant ranges from ₹500 to ₹5,000 per kilogram. The farmers can really earn well if they cultivate turmeric through soil-less agriculture,” says Prakash.
It may be noted that Hydroponic Greenhouse Technologies India Private Limited of which Prakash is the Farmer-in-Chief and Founder has the unique distinction of having set up for the first time in the history of Agricultural exhibitions in India a 3500 Square Feet Live Hydroponics/Soilless pavilion at the Agri-Intex 2014 at Coimbatore in July 2014 which was witnessed by thousands of people and had rave reviews.
One of his noteworthy ideas is creation of Food Parks in the peri-urban limits of large cities, using Hydroponics Technology to provide clean, green, pesticide free, fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs for people. These Hydroponic Food parks are self-sustaining horticultural cities producing fresh vegetables for the nearby towns and cities. The concept actually is a path-breaking one and he wishes that these ideas be executed under PPP’s.
Prakash has also developed a design for a Centre for Agricultural Excellence, which again is a vision of great purport. He is also credited for building India’s first Commercial Fully automated climate controlled Hydroponics Greenhouse in India at Bangalore in 2010. He also has completed three other projects one at Coimbatore, one at Ahmedabad to grow Ginger another landmark project at Lusaka in Zambia.
Prakash was awarded the Jai Jawan Jai Kisan honour by the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, Karnataka in Sep 2016.