India: Japanese CEA technology helps Indian strawberry project

Japanese technology firms are applying their expertise in energy-saving technologies to help Indian farmers in Pune cope with shifting weather patterns, an onslaught of cheaper imports and a shrinking workforce. While indoor farming has taken off in the United States and Europe, particularly in the Netherlands, those systems are designed more for a colder climate and are only equipped with heating, rather than cooling systems. In Japan, rising electricity costs mean that energy-intensive methods, such as blasting out air-conditioning, aren’t a cost-effective solution. The Japanese model deals with high temperatures and humidity more appropriate for Asian countries.

Automated greenhouses and sensor-controlled fields ensure constant conditions to produce high-quality vegetables and fruits all year-round.This technology has been applied to strawberries as well and is now being brought to India by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) through NEC Corporation.

JICA is facilitating expansion of IT-controlled strawberry cultivation in Pune district. IT-based sensors are used for monitoring pH, temperature and moisture during cultivation; cloud-based storage helps tracking data on progress of cultivation; and a computer with internet connectivity is used for communication with cultivation experts in Japan when required.

The strawberries are grown in a greenhouse on coco peat, on a raised platform instead of on soil. Coco peat is a coir fiber by-product abundantly available in India, and it minimises use of pesticides and risk of disease or pests. The greenhouse has customized air-coolers to maintain temperature, a retractable curtain with mosquito net for use at night and in winters to maintain temperature without air-coolers and an RO system to maintain pH in irrigation water.

The main challenge in cultivating strawberries is temperature control. By means of a special cooling system, the temperature in the greenhouse is never allowed to exceed 30 degrees Celsius.

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