HydroValley is the brainchild of the coming generation couple, Asish Mohanty and Pragyan Sahu, from the Jagatsinghpur district in Odisha, India. They harbour the zeal to build towards a greener, healthier lifestyle with their business acumen. HydroValley is unique as it thrives on agricultural innovation; Hydroponic farming. This relatively new project demands time, patience and dedicated perseverance.
Here is Pragyan Sahu in conversation with ICY Tales.
Q. Could you please tell us something about yourself?
Pragyan Sahu- I am a native of the port town; Paradip, in Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha. In 2020 I got married to Asish Mohanty, my business partner. After marriage, I quit my job and indulged myself in the HydroValley project entirely. I have over five years of experience working with Startups in the domain of Human resources.
Q. How did you decide to indulge yourself in the agriculture sector?
Pragyan Sahu– While we were working in Hyderabad, Asish’s sister, my sister-in-law, told us about this new technique of farming where people are growing plants only using water, known as Hydroponics farming. So we researched this, read about the process and found it intriguing. So we got in touch with a good agronomist who himself had a hydroponics farm; we visited him, received our training and then we decided this is an exciting technique which we can do. In addition to this newly developed interest, Asish also wanted to return and stay with his ageing parents.
Coincidentally everything fell into place; Asish has experience in production and workforce handling, while I have experience in human resources and marketing. So we decided to quit our jobs, return to our hometown and start this project where Asish will be handling the production aspect while I’ll manage the marketing side. After coming back, I did my marketing research on the demand in the market, creating a customer database.
During this process, we identified a high demand for fresh lettuce and other leafy greens but low supply, which inspired us to indulge in the project, and we started production on the rooftop terrace of 800 square feet. We learnt from our failures and eventually decided to give our full time to grow with this business.
Q. Usually, people consider farming or agriculture, not for everyone. What is your take on that?
Pragyan Sahu– While deliberating on the idea of indulging in this sector leaving our jobs, even we had a similar thought. Generating profit and managing our finances through farming was a caution quotient for us; the same was for our parents too; they were sceptical about this unusual plan.
This was a little bit shocking for them to see their kids post completion of their masters, quitting their full-time jobs to get into farming. So we took the leap of faith because what we were planning to do was entirely different from conventional agriculture, which demands labour land with other resources. But Hydroponics farming does not need much labour investment; good leafy greens can be generated in less space and minimum water use.
So we decided to do this as it’s relatively new, eye-catching and futuristic in its way. We also believe that when educated and informed individuals are involved in the farming sector, they could easily add value to the field.
Q. Hydroponics is relatively a new concept; how much effort does it take compared to regular farming?
Pragyan Sahu- Hydroponics farming is a new technique in the Odisha market, but it’s pretty old worldwide. Usually, people considering the costing, productivity, and investment return do not indulge in this type of farming. Whereas the effort aspect, nothing grows without time and effort.
The key to hydroponics farming is dedication, patience and understanding the requirement of the plant. As we do not invest in the workforce much, all our efforts go to the plants in terms of our dedication, patience and time; we have to look after the plants like babies, providing the right amount of nutrition, time to time care. Unlike conventional farming, we have accountability towards the plants, and we track the number of plants we planted, their growth and their time-to-time requirements, just like babies.
Q. What has been your motivation behind completely indulging yourself in this endeavour?
Pragyan Sahu- As a young couple who indulged in something new that never happened in the region, it has an overwhelming response. The satisfaction of meeting the customer demands to deliver fresh leafy greens, the appreciation, and the interest in knowing and learning about this innovative farming technique has motivated us and continue to motivate us to do what we are doing. There is this saying. ‘The way to someone’s heart is through the stomach’ food, and the satisfaction of feeding is pivotal in keeping us motivated.
Q. Every entrepreneur has their own success story. Would you like to share yours with us?
Pragyan Sahu– I’ll give all the credit to Asish for this, quitting a well-settled job, returning to his hometown, starting this project and engaging in this full-time, learning about plants, their care and requirements. We did not achieve success in one go. It’s like we had grown through our failures initially when we started delivering in January 2020. We used to have exposure and interaction with customers through the Trade Fairs or other Annual Fairs. Still, with the onset of the pandemic, the nationwide lockdown, we suffered our first setback. Our medium of connecting with people through the fairs and fests stopped abruptly, and all we had was word of mouth among our immediate circles.
In these few months before the lockdown, our rooftop farming was successful. So we had taken the loan ordered all necessary paraphernalia to build the commercial farm. Still, right before we could start, the lockdown was imposed, state borders were sealed, and raw materials could not be procured. The labour aspect was also affected as they were put under mandatory quarantine: this was a very tough period for us as our money was on hold, and even we could not indulge in farming. I appreciate his patience for someone who had quit their jobs, sitting at home with so much uncertainty.
His patience kept us going, and again in September 2020, we started, we were welcomed with best wishes, and the customers’ response and support were exceptional. Again in 2021, Asish was Covid positive and was admitted to hospital, our entire family was covid positive, then the whole production was stopped, and we had a break for four to five months.
However, we never lost our hope, and again, in August 2021, we resumed our farming started delivery in September. Similarly, when we returned to the market, we received an overwhelming response; word of mouth was excellent, bringing many customers and orders. We believe our consistency, dedication, and patience manoeuvred our success story.
Q. Since you deal with perishable goods, sometimes losses are inevitable; how do you keep yourself going in times of crisis?
Pragyan Sahu- We are growing food, and food is equivalent to God, so if there is a lack of customers, we have people in our family and acquaintances circle with whom we can share. Moreover, we are not conventional farmers; we are very calculative within our scope of work. We grow our plants in calculative numbers to manage our plant produce according to the demand. However, if the need arises, we have connections with food bloggers and other eateries who can use these and serve them to their customers and loved ones.
Q. What inspires you in life?
Pragyan Sahu– It’s the support for each other and, in addition to that, the support we get from our family members. Throughout our journey, till now, my in-laws have extended all possible support whenever we needed them. We believe apart from the knowledge dedication sustaining in this business, family support is crucial.
Our farm is like our comfort space, where we indulge ourselves entirely in the process of growing our plants. It’s an inexplicable experience, with water flowing, the ambience, the atmosphere being in the bosom of nature is unique. So we invite people interested in spending some quality time to come and experience the sense of being involved with nature. And this inspires us to continue with what we are doing.