CHS Student Helps Subsistence Farmers

Chatham High School junior and 2016 Global Youth Institute Delegate Indira Roy spent the summer in Hyderabad, India researching hydroponic farming techniques to help local subsistence farmers. She designed and implemented an experiment that has helped her to better understand how to help farmers maximize crop yields.

Roy said, “Major environmental issues that get in the way of productive farming in and near Hyderabad include the infertile soil and frequent drought. Farmers thus use a lot of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides, hoping these will improve crop productivity. However, their crop yields are still low, and they get into great debt, which can lead to suicide.”

Hydroponic farming utilizes much less water than soil-based agriculture, so it is particularly beneficial to areas that are prone to droughts.

Roy said, “I decided that deep flow technique (DFT) hydroponics may be part of the solution to subsistence farmer poverty. DFT hydroponics involves filling a tank or well with nutrient solution, then floating a styrofoam raft bed on top of the solution. The raft bed has holes in it to hold net pots, and the net pots contain the hydroponic substrate (an alternative to soil) and plant seedlings. DFT hydroponics usually also involves an electrical air pump that produces oxygen bubbles in the nutrient solution. This makes DFT hydroponics impractical for subsistence farmers in India, as they either lack access to or do not have the money for reliable power supplies. My research was to study if DFT hydroponics can be successful in the climate of Hyderabad, India, without using electricity.”

In the future, Roy plans to study how communities in Indian villages can implement low-cost DFT hydroponics. She is also interested in researching the ways in which consumers evaluate produce when making purchases, such as perceived freshness.

Roy plans to present a paper she wrote on hydroponics at the 2016 Global Youth Institute in October in Des Moines, Iowa, which is hosted by the World Food Prize. She plans to discuss her summer experiments at this forum in order to share her next lines of inquiry with the Delegation.

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