Welcome to the first Conference and Mini-Expo for hydroponics in India. Feb. 7-8, Bombay Convention 1 Exhibition Centre.

I very much like this combination of conferences and mini expos. This is the second such event we sponsor at GHE, and it is definitively an excellent concept. The first one was organized in Moscow by Dr. Aydan Bekirov from Soilless Magazine (previously “Hydroponeast”), in September 2012. A small-scale gathering of highly specialized manufacturers and a diversified group of scientists and professionals offering talks and conferences, topped with a passionate public and extremely animated round tables: these were the ingredients for that first mini conference. Which generated a whole series of new networks among people sharing science, business and sometimes even durable friendships.

So when Aydan suggested a new mini conference in Mumbaï, I felt confident enough to get into it immediately. Not only because of our previous success in Russia, but also because it was happening in India, a country with rapid population expansion, water scarcity and/or pollution, impoverished lands, overpopulated cities and neighborhoods, and an urgent need to solve all of these challenges at once; a country where hydroponics applies right to the spot.

We had not met with the organizers, M. Sandesh Shingote and M. Adytia Chaudhary before we were in MumbaÏ. But we already had collaborated in their excellent magazine, Soilless Gardening India (SGI). Nevertheless, when we arrived at the exhibition hall the night before the opening, I was a little distressed. The hall looked dingy and bare. How could we be ready by 9 o’clock the next morning? But this was without knowing our hosts and their capabilities. The next day at 9 sharp, like in a fairy tale, the booths were up, duly furnished, and decorated with healthy plants, the conference room was lined with comfortable seats, there was a very large screen and an excellent sound system that worked perectly. We were happy and ready to roll.

And at 9 sharp also, the public arrived. A long line of people started gathering at the door and before the end of the show, from Friday 9 till Saturday 5 o’clock, more than 4,000 visitors had attended our event. They came from all over India, some of them from quite far, like Chennai, Bangalore, New Delhi and further, traveling at great expenses, sometimes more than 24 hours by bus, plane or train, to get to MumbaÏ. They came to see what they already had had the time to read about, or to experiment at home. Some came to better grasp the concept and eventually apply it professionally be it in schools, in interior design or in associations, or commercially for an income. And some came to discover. They all were a pleasure to meet. And it was refreshing to see them so enthusiastic to participate in such a promising common vision.

In India like in Russia, we were happily surprised by the amount of knowledge that people already have on hydroponics, but what they lack from is experienced advice and adequate products. Some of them are already growers, but they measure the limits of their capabilities with the products they have at hand, and they are done with testing and inventing their own recipes with whatever they can find in their garden stores. And many are small landowners in cities and countryside, who realize that they could transform their small gardens into successful commercial operations, but need professional guidance.

Sandesh Shingote opened the event with a tribute to Dr. Bekirov who couldn’t be with us; followed with warm applause. I then had the pleasure of declaring the conference open before we lit the sacred lamp, a traditional and extremely moving ritual for an auspicious event. The first speaker to start the cycle was William Texier with a short history of hydroponics. Then several other companies presented their products (vegetal walls, coconut fiber, hydroponic home or garden systems, hydroponic Family Farms, seeds, etc). A detailed program of these conferences is available on http://soillessgardening-india.com/news/soilless-gardening-india-conference-and-mini-expo-highlights.

To my opinion, the highlight of the event was on Saturday morning, when the Simplified Hydroponics Training Workshop started, with Mr. CV Prakash as the instructor. Mr. Prakash is founder and CEO of Simplified Hydroponics in India. With passion and dedication, he described to an enthusiastic audience the benefits of hydroponics and the way to start a low cost hydroponics micro farm using coconut fiber in a closed circuit. His concept is a local, simple to use, low cost/high yield hydroponics operation, producing nutritious fresh foods. As opposed to the huge soilless industrial greenhouses that require large investments and produce huge quantities of poorly fed plants to remain competitive on an international level. Exactly what we, at General Hydroponics, have been promoting for years on our side of the planet: the hydroponics “Family Farms”! We went along very well with the Simplified Hydroponics team, and spent pleasant moments together. Meeting people and sharing knowledge and ideas is one of the reasons I so much like these events.

On Saturday also William Texier presented his book “Hydroponics for Everybody”, published by the French publisher Mama Editions. Although a little pricy by Indian standards, the book received excellent welcome because it is exhaustive and easy to read, and also because it is the latest in-depth book written on hydroponics since the longest time, filling a gap of some 20 years of hydroponics research, creating, testing and growing.

It definitely was a successful seminar. We recieved around 300 participants to the conferences and some 200 to the workshops. The room was filled to the rim, and people were even standing by the doors. Now we have to wait and see what the results will be. India is a continent with a lot of resources, and its population, from what I saw at this seminar, is curious and enthusiastic. There is a lot to do, and it is a challenge. Not only in India. Hydroponics as we apply it today is a new technology, with lots of qualities and advantages. Due to the “classical” soilless large-scale operations with their industrial crops, the reputation of hydroponics suffered a lot in the eyes of growers, investors, and consumers alike. So we need to restore this confidence, teach the new “hydroponicists” to produce healthy and nutritious plants, and inform shoppers in such a way that they are happy to buy hydroponically grown foods.

Another challenge is the recognition of hydroponics nutrients and supplements by governments and administrations worldwide. The question is “What is a hydroponic nutrient and what is it useful for”? Up to now greenhouse growers have been using simple mineral nutrients in soil and hydro, including in coconut fiber. Nobody before General Hydroponics had created a real hydroponic nutrient, which is a complete and highly soluble formula that guarantees quality of production and includes all the ingredients a plant needs to develop. Indeed, whichever method you choose to grow your plants, it really is the nutrient that really promotes vigorous, tasty and nutritious crops. Unfortunately the knowledge that administrations have in our field is still rather limited, and the regulations do not recognize complex formulas like the ones we manufacture today. Registering nutrients and supplements with government agencies remains a real issue for hydroponics, which we have to address with lots of attention in the near future.

Participating in the creation of this first conference and mini expo in Mumbaï was a lot of work, some stress of course, but also a lot of fun. Sandesh, Aditya, and their team were the best of organizers and also excellent hosts. They attended to our least desires, and made us feel at home in this amazing city that Mumbaï is. We thank them for their good work, and will wait patiently for their next event in 2015.