Gardening was always a passion for her. Today, Pamalai Munisamy, is the proud founder o Pam Green Cascades. It evolves in hydroponics. Pamalai Munisamy tells us more about hydroponic and her upcoming projects.
How did this hydroponic tomato project come about?
It is no secret that one who plants a garden plants happiness. Working as a Science educator for 10 years, I have always been fascinated by the hydroponic cultivation of flowers and food crops in greenhouses. Deep inside, I knew that someday I would be setting up my own greenhouse and see my plants growing healthily and producing nutritious local fruits and vegetables. But little did I know that my ‘someday’ would turn out to be this near, in 2021! I shall begin with the hydroponic cultivation of tomatoes not only because there is always a market for these fruits, but also because they are nutrient-dense superfoods which help in cancer and cardiovascular disease prevention, maintain a healthy blood pressure, and help regulate blood glucose in patients suffering from diabetics. It is a pity to note that despite the widespread consumption of tomatoes as raw, cooked or stewed, they are in the top ten fruits and vegetables for containing high levels of pesticide residue. The mission of my company ‘Pam Green Cascades’ (PGC) is to provide our local community with fresh and nutritious tomatoes, with negligible use of pesticides and insecticides so that they can reap the impressive health benefits of these fruits.
Tell us about the beginnings and milestones of this company.
In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered my interest setting up my own greenhouse for the following reasons. Firstly, we all witnessed how important it is to be self-sufficient in food production during lockdown and curfew periods. Access to vegetables and fruits proved to be so restricted and life threatening! Secondly, COVID-19 did not impact the growth of plants in greenhouses and therefore the white-collar farmers could harvest their crops in higher quantities (compared to traditional farming) and had high return on investment (ROI).
Tell us a little more about hydroponics.
Hydroponics is the science of growing crops in a medium, other than soil. If the raw materials (carbon dioxide and water) and the conditions (chlorophyll and sunlight) are present, plants grow through the process of photosynthesis. Therefore, soil can be substituted by a growing medium, such as cocopeat, vermiculite, rockwool and grow rock. In Mauritius, the two most common forms of hydroponics are the drip irrigation system and the nutrient film technique (NFT). In the drip hydroponics system, plants are grown in cocopeat pots or in cocopeat bricks, which are fed with a nutrient-rich solution via an active drip irrigation system. All types of plants, irrespective of size, can be successfully grown using this system (tomatoes, melon, cucumbers, bell peppers). In the NFT, plant roots are suspended above a nutrient solution in tubes Gardening was always a passion for her. Today, Pamalai Munisamy, is the proud founder o Pam Green Cascades. It evolves in hydroponics. Pamalai Munisamy tells us more about hydroponic and her upcoming projects. or channels. The continuous flow of nutrient solution provides the plant roots with sufficient water, minerals and oxygen required for rapid healthy plant growth. Because the roots are not suspended in a growing medium in NFT, they cannot support much support from a top-heavy plant and therefore this system is most suited for lightweight, fast-growing plants (lettuces, bok choy) that can be harvested quickly.
Hydroponics offers several merits compared to traditional conventional farming methods. Hydroponics enhances productivity due to the more controlled and uniform growth conditions in the greenhouses. There can be a 50 to 100 % increase in tomato and pepper production using hydroponics over a much-reduced space. Hydroponics plants are shielded from pests, extreme weather conditions, soil toxicities, high soil salinity and acidity. Hydroponics make efficient use of water, especially under closed systems where water is recirculated constantly. There is significant reduction in manpower labor such as weeding and soil sterilization. Crops grown in greenhouses are available all year round and hydroponics also provide a good alternative to unproductive soil.
In short, hydroponics is a smart and sustainable innovation in agriculture which can significantly reduce food shortages and provide the community with a variety of fresh and local produce all year round.
Do you have other hydroponics projects in the pipeline?
In Mauritius, hydroponics cultivated crops are mostly flowers, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, and melons. There is the need to diversify in other crops such as broccoli, strawberries, and microgreens. Also, in less than 5 years, I would like my greenhouse to be equipped with fans and grow lights and be automated with the latest technologies such as microcontrollers and sensors to improve the efficiency of hydroponics to increase the quality and quantity of the produce and pose an opportunity for the growth of the hydroponics market in the years to come.
Do you think hydroponics is widespread enough in Mauritius?
Several farmers and prospective farmers are investing on and expanding the field of hydroponics because it is truly a fruitful business with a high ROI. A few of my former students are willing and motivated to dive into this business on completion of their tertiary education. Unfortunately, the major drawback of hydroponics is the initial high investment. The implementation and annual running costs for hydroponics cultivation of food crops such as tomatoes in a locally made 270 m2 greenhouse is nearly one million, excluding cost for land rent, if any. However, several financial schemes are provided by the DBM Ltd and the MauBank and various agricultural equipment are exempted from duty and VAT. To embrace this promising and sustainable business, technical support is provided to promoters by AREU (site visits to assess the feasibility of hydroponics system, advice on variety of crops and training of prospective white-collar farmers on the cultural and practical aspects of hydroponics cultivation).
To conclude, hydroponics is a disciplined science. One must observe proper sanitation practices in and out of the greenhouse. One should daily invest time (at least 2 hours) in the greenhouse to ensure that it remains a nurturing and protective environment for growing healthy crops. At the end, the whitecollar farmer will be nicely rewarded for all his/her efforts. So, dear aspiring entrepreneurs and/planters, get up and go for hydroponics!