Most schools in major cities are moving towards digitisation and expect children to use tablets to study. But ballpoint pen, pencil, eraser and notebooks continue to be part of their study. Students discard most materials after their academic year or when they are no more useable and go in for a new set.
Now, thanks to the enterprising work by two computer science engineering graduates from Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu, a pencil's stub can be grown into a sapling.
S Ranjith Kumar and A Rajakamalesh had noticed that valuable pencil stubs were being thrown away. As pencils are biowaste, the duo started making efforts to effectively utilise them.
The two have named their innovation “Farmcil”, a blend of farming and pencil. “Farmcil, the name given to the pencil, grows into a plant, contributing to the preservation of ecology. The unique pencil has a capsule at one end containing seeds,” Ranjith Kumar said.
Ranjith Kumar said “the name Farmcil for the pencil is to emphasise the importance of farming not only in the region but also throughout the nation and to preserve the green cover on earth.”
Ranjith Kumar said “Our family and educational background were responsible for us to take up issues such as global warming and unbridled pollution, resulting in deteriorating quality of earth. These developments have been directly affecting people.”
“In January 2016, we thought of working on this innovative idea. Thereafter, we started doing research on the project. We had detailed discussions with the professors in the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. It took a concrete shape in August 2016,” Ranjith Kumar said.
According to him, the wood used for the Farmcil is natural and free from any toxins since children tend to put the Farmcil in their mouths while writing. “The capsule at the end of the pencil is made from non-toxic bio-material. Even if children chew the bottom of the Farmcil, it will not harm them. Once the Farmcil gets wet because of the saliva, it becomes sticky. Therefore, the child will not attempt to put the Farmcil in the mouth again,” he said.
The seeds in the Farmcil capsule are either of vegetables or flower-bearing plants. The seeds could be of tomato, brinjal, okra, chilli or cluster beans or verbena, zinnia, cockscomb, sunflower or balsam.
Once the capsule dissolves, seed sprouts and grows into a plant. The process could take between three and 10 days, depending on the plant variety. The plant will yield flowers or vegetables in about 40 to 50 days.
Students could use the Farmcil till it becomes short. Then, the remaining portion should be inserted sideways in the soil. Soil should be covered till “planting mark”. The Farmcil should not be planted deep inside. In addition, the soil in the pot should be loosely filled. After a few days, the capsule gets dissolved and begins to expose seeds. “It is easy for a student to plant the Farmcil since it has the planting mark,” Ranjith said.
Sprouting depends on the seed. For example, tomato could take a week whereas for okra it could be just four days. Likewise, sprouting for chilli, brinjal, cluster beans and sun flower is between five days and one week. The student will have a choice of growing plant of his choice by buying the right Farmcil.
Ranjith said that students would be thrilled to see plants with colourful flowers and green vegetables and they would have the satisfaction of nurturing them. “Gardening slowly becomes a habit for children as they develop pride and sense of responsibility towards nature preservation,” he said. The product is patented under the intellectual property rights law and the trade mark registration for this brand is under process.
He said that Farmcil aims to drive home the importance of farming and ecology preservation. “Also this concept inculcates the habit of nurturing nature in children when they start using Farmcils in their kindergarten classes,” he pointed out. The habit is likely to stand children in good stead when they grow up.
At present, the duo has started supplying the environmental-friendly Farmcils to various NGOs across Tamil Nadu. “We have a product unit called R & R Trading Company that produces about 18,000 pencils per day,” Ranjith said.
In a bid to empower women, Ranjith's unit has employed only female staff in the packing section. “We are in the process of introducing more vegetable and flower seeds. We have 10 types of seeds now,” he said. The Farmcil is priced at Rs 10.