Thought For Food Global Challenge is an initiative to tackle the global task of feeding more than 9 billion people all over the world by the year 2050 through innovative strategies. In January 2016, all the aspiring university students from around the world will compete for the top ten finalist slot, who will get an opportunity to present their idea in front of a global audience in Zurich, Switzerland.
Ipshita, Sheetal and Vismita, from Delhi, have come up with a creative ideation called Grain Check for providing an environmentally sustainable storage system at farmer level. Sheetal and Vismita are currently pursuing B.tech in Food Technology from University of Delhi while Ipshita has completed her Masters in Sustainable Development.
We at University Express got a chance to meet them and discuss with them their groundbreaking approach to compete in the TFF challenge. Excerpts from the interview:
1. How did you come to know about TFF and what motivated you to take up the challenge?
Sheetal: One of my friends had participated in the TFF challenge and was the runner-up for that year, so that’s how I came to know about it. Vismita, being my classmate and a very good friend was also thrilled as soon as I told her. We needed a third member to complete our team so I asked Ipshita who happens to live in the same society as I do and she immediately agreed.
Ipshita: Because they are doing food tech it’s a huge added advantage to their CV. When Sheetal asked me, I was pretty pepped up as it was related to the subjects I had for my masters. Also, it’s the experience of gaining entrepreneurship skills if our project gets selected, that is enthralling.
Vismita: Plus the winning team will get a reward upto $15,000 which will act as a start-up amount for our business venture.
2. Why do you think India is still facing shortage of food and why is there a need to work towards this issue?
Sheetal: We did a lot of research , revised our ideas multiple times and then came across a startling fact that while production is in abundance, food wastage is a critical aspect, especially in India. If we stop food wastage at the farmer level, a huge portion of the grain drain can be distributed to the people who can consume it. Statistically, about 260 million metric tons of food grain is produced in India of which, shockingly 6% is lost at the farmer level.
Vismita: So we thought why not come up with a system where we can save this 6% that can feed another 312 million people alone in India.
3. So did you get a chance to interact with farmers and find out the cause behind this huge loss?
Ipshita: Yes. As part of a market research program, I visited farmlands of Bareilly and Lucknow and interviewed a few farmers and learned about their outdated practices in storing food grains outdoors, which are prone to insect and rodent attacks. Just because there is no structure to keep it safely, the food is getting wasted. Also, the farmers are not aware of the ill-effects of the chemical preservative available abundantly in the market, the name of which they don’t even know but naively use it to preserve food grains, which in fact is causing them more harm than good.
4. How do you plan to reduce grain drain in a way that is financially viable to the farmers as well as you?
Vismita: We have a prototype and we have made it in such a way that it is affordable to the farmers. Therefore, we are using raw materials that are locally available. The structure we are planning to build uses plastic bottles, cement and clay which can be re-used and re-cycled. The structure will be leveled so that underground water does not disturb the grains and they don’t fall prey to any sort of pest attack. The plastic bottles can be obtained from companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola as they have no place to dump the empty bottles and this can contribute to their CSR initiative. Since we are using their bottles, they can provide us additional funds.
Ipshita: We also happened to go to Pusa, where we were asked a lot of questions like where to construct the structure? Whether there will be structures for individual households or do we make a community structure? So we would primarily target the bigger farmers who would have these structures outside their houses. If there is adequate space which is under-utilized, we might create this structure there for the bigger farmers who would pay us rent and that money will be used to run the company. For the smaller farmers, who are not as well-off, we might create a public structure with built-floors such that different floors can be utilized by different farmers.
5. What sets your idea apart from the existing incentives provided by the government?
Sheetal: There have been various initiatives by the government and many incentives have been provided to the farmers, but one major disadvantage is that they use toxins to protect the crops, which is extremely harmful. We on the other hand have a herbal paste that keeps all the pests away and hence, is natural and uses locally available raw materials.
6. Do you plan to include the public in your venture?
Sheetal: Oh, yes definitely. We haven’t really given it a thought but once we move ahead in this competition and if we get through this, we will include a mass participation because it’s very important to create awareness as people don’t know how much grain is wasted every minute.
We thank Ipshita, Sheetal and Vismita for taking out time and sharing their valuable thoughts with us. We wish them good luck for their future endeavours and hope that they make it to the final top ten.
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