Making farming foolproof

Homegrw founder Andras Kristof believes that aquaponics can become a system that is easily reproducible, scalable, and managed. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong
Photo: Ooi Boon Keong
Engineer Andras Kristof believes that applying IT savvy to agriculture can help improve food security
Published: 4:02 AM, September 19, 2013
Updated: 9:50 PM, September 19, 2013
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SINGAPORE — As one of the key engineers behind Singapore-based video-streaming and subtitling website Viki, Hungary-born Andras Kristof is no stranger to the allure of the conventional tech start-up.

His work at Viki no doubt contributed to the success of the company, which was recently bought by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten for a reported US$200 million (S$251.9 million).

But now, Mr Kristoff, 43, is focused on making his very own start-up a success too. Instead of social media, however, the Singapore PR has turned his attention to aquaponics, a combination of hydroponics (growing plants in water instead of soil) and raising freshwater fish and animals in tanks.

In an aquaponics ecosystem, waste deposited in the water by the fish becomes a nutrient source for the plants which, in turn, act as cleaning mechanism for the water. This method of farming is environmentally friendly because it utilises no chemical fertilisers and much less water than traditional agriculture.

However, because these are closed ecosystems, any slight mistake can throw the whole farm off-balance.

“There is a saying — until you kill your first 1,000 fish, you can’t call yourself an aquaponics farmer,” said Mr Kristof, who is confident he can improve those odds.

His business, Homegrw, designs equipment and data collection systems to help aquaponics become foolproof farming systems. The goal, he said, is to “take out the learning curve, and create turnkey aquaponics systems that anybody can run, thus making it easier to do urban farming”.

Homegrw was launched last year with S$50,000 of Mr Kristof’s own savings and additional funds from a group of investors he jokingly calls “friends, family and fools”.

He has designed sensors that can capture and send data from aquaponics systems to a cloud system for analysis. Relevant instructions are then sent to farmers via smartphone apps — if the pH level is trailing, for example, they will be told to clean the filter or change the ratio of fish to plants.

Mr Kristof is currently building a prototype aquaponics system on a 300 square metre Choa Chu Kang plot that will utilise his inventions. “We want to collect about six months’ worth of data, produce 200kg of vegetables a week, and prove that this is a financially viable system.”

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