Friday, March 28, 2014

Efficacy of Shadenet to control Algae

Some of you had mailed me regarding the efficacy of the Shadenet over SST. Algae formation was a major problem we were experiencing in our tank, especially during the peak of summer. The situation became quite critical last year - Pictures before shadenet

Using some local ingenuity, we started working towards a potential solution that could at least control the problem, if not eliminate it - Shadenet over SST

It has been about 5 months and we are happy to note that we have not had the need to clean the tank yet. Algae build up has started in the last few weeks but is greatly reduced. Earlier, we had to clean the tank almost every 4-6 weeks during the hot months.

In conclusion, Shadenet was indeed useful in mitigating algae to a large extent. Only one word of caution - with 1600 sq ft of Shadenet material resting on metal wires, it does get quite heavy (especially after a rain or so). Ensure there is good support on the sides and proper reinforcement is available to avoid falling of metal pillars.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Market Insights and Nutritional Trends from Nestle's chief

We recently came across a rare interview with a major food marketing and processing firm. It is not often when a well known food brand leader engages the Indian media to share their vision and goals. Parsing between the marketing nuances, we thought Nestle's Worldwide Executive Director Mr Nandanand Kishore, had some interesting observations about food and nutrition trends.

  • First, the marketing spiel. Nestle's largest portfolio of brands is in the processed food and snack categories. While such foods are inherently not healthy, Mr Kishore coined an interesting term, 'Responsible Pleasure'. He believes that between the fried snacks, frozen processed foods and such, it may be possible to strike a balance between taste and nutrition. Right there, we knew that he seems like a seasoned marketing professional but what caught our attention was what he felt about Indian nutritional intake later.
  • For the first time worldwide, over 50% of the worlds population is living in urban environments. Not surprisingly, India is leading the pack of rural exodus to urban centers. This metric expected to only move one way. Mr Kishore spins consumption of processed food being better as fresh food consumption in India. The point we almost agreed with is that Indian consumers are often not aware of the food source. Chemical fertilizers and harmful pesticides remain constant hazards among fresh produce. Processors like Nestle claims to screen out such tainted produce making their processed products relatively safer.
  • By 2050, India's demand for food and nutrition is expected to double. Food production is definitely not at pace with the projected demand. For instance, though India is the world largest dairy producer, it is not because of our production efficiency. Our per animal productivity is 10th in the world for dairy. At the end of the day, food suppliers and distributors will gravitate towards the cost effective source of production and today Indian agriculture practices have become outdated and needs major infusion of funding and technology.

  • Nestle is leading the pack of over a dozen major food brands to reduce the salt, sugar and fat content in their products. Allegedly, hundred of million tonnes of transfats have been removed from current snack and processed products. With that said, we still felt the aggressive F&B industry marketing really puts the onus of healthy snack choices on the customer and most Indian customers are not very informed.
  • Lastly, Mr Kishore seems to have a noble cause close to heart. Women often receive less nutrition in developing nations like India. Supposedly it may be due to them being late or last in the family eating order. This has long term impact during pregnancy and during the girl child's youth. Babies who suffered malnutrition have been shown to be predisposed to Diabetes and Blood Pressure ailments as adults. Upto 30% of Indians are said to be Diabetic which translates into the largest Diabetic population in the world.

Overall, the interview was worth a watch. Mr Kishore pitches processes food industry as a long stay in our society and ventures a few data points which indicate the safe & smart production with ethical & efficient distributed will prevail in an increasingly competitive industry. The community should take heart that this should translate as opportunities in agri production, packaging, value addition and as always, in marketing. What do you think?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Moringa Leaf : Dehydrator Concepts

This year marked the first year of Moringa Leaf production at commercial volumes at Savera Farms. During our pilot phases, we attempted various post-harvesting techniques like Air Drying. While Air Drying is recommended by some, we found it to be generally inefficient. Moisture levels were uneven and direct / indirect exposure to the sun resulted in discoloration of dry leaves. In the herbal supplement market, color, smell and consistency is highly regarded - and we tend to agree with our discerning buyers!

Since then we have discovered multiple leaf drying techniques and decided to use a dehydrator. Simply explained, a dehydrator is a device which uses warm air to dehydrate the fresh product enclosed in a container. European and American users often use counter top dehydrator models to preserve seasonal fruits and vegetables. Drying fresh produce using this method not only preserves the nutritional content but also does not physically damage the fresh food item.

While commercially marketed dehydrators can be cost prohibitive for a small operation, we were able to use a simple design to construct one for our purposes. There are a few providers of commercial scale dehydrators but during our negotiations, the purchase and setup cost quickly rose to multiple lakh INR. Instead, our initial design included solar dehydration but to increase efficiency we later included a heat lamp so the device could be used indoors as well. Various solar dehydration / cooking methods were popularized in India during 1970s and 1980s. Readers should take inspiration from those tried and tested methods to attempt their own design. There is quite a bit of information available online to modify designs based on your specific utilization.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Fresh Fodder Development : Importance, Constraints and Options

At Savera Farms, we have now been raising our Goat herd to close to a year now. Apart from capital intensive expenses like the shed, it soon became clear that most of our resources will be spent on procuring and preparing the daily feed. This experience seems to be universal to most animal husbandry practices, including dairy and meat production. It is estimated that no less than 70 per cent of the cost of milk production in India goes towards fodder and yet fresh feed remains woefully deficient in quality in India.

Adopting balanced feed-rations and breeding animals with higher “feed-conversion efficiency” seems to have become critical in increasing their productive life, reducing the incidence of disease, and lowering the cost of production. In India, livestock is largely fed on agricultural residue and straw-based fodder which were deficient in several nutrients. While green fodder is more nutritious, only 10 per cent of the area under green fodder is sown with certified seeds. As the demand for milk products and meat rise in India, agri operations will have no choice but to increase fodder yield and productivity.

Among high yield techniques there are very few which surpass the efficiency of Hydroponics. While Hydroponics has been a widely discussed topic in online forums, very few operators have adopted this in a significant way. Savera Farms has flirted with the idea but we have not committed serious effort behind this yet. Not withstanding the high capital investment, there is still a lack of competent and widely available expertise in India. This has been a constraint for a while but with initiatives like PetBaro, there is increased awareness in urban locations. We are hoping, over time such knowledge building initiatives will help with increased adoption of Hydroponic practices. There was an interesting commentary online around the constraints of Hydroponics in the Indian landscape.

Listed below are a few pioneers and solution providers in the Hyroponic space in India. We share this with our readers so they can seek inspiration, benefit from current innovations and yet make informed decisions. Do share your experiences, favorable or cautionary, with the community for better decision making.
  •     AgroVision
  •     GrassFodder Hydroponics
  •     Greentech Hydroponics
Disclaimer : We do not endorse or have used the above service providers. Readers should be diligent while determining their Hydroponic strategies.