Small-scale farmers to see higher yields as they adopt new, cheap greenhouses

Report
from Kenya Daily Nation
Published on 20 Jun 2013 View Original

By BONIFACE MWANGI bmwangi@ke.nationmedia.com
Posted Thursday, June 20 2013 at 01:00

IN SUMMARY
- Using locally available materials, US professor has come up with 12 greenhouse models meant to boost food production among smallholder growers

In an effort to fight food insecurity in the country and see that small-scale farmers boost production by using modern technology, a professor has come up with new greenhouse models.

The greenhouses made from locally available materials are suitable for any crop. According to Prof Khanjan Mehta, the director, Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship at Pennsylvania State University, his aim was to empower smallholder farmers in Kenya who are interested in greenhouse farming to achieve their goals.

“Lack of funds and space are just some of the major challenges small-scale farmers are experiencing and due to this, I decided to come up with convenient and affordable greenhouses to make their dreams come true,” he says.

Prof Mehta says that due to lack of space, many farmers are unable to set up greenhouses to grow organic food, compelling them to use a lot of chemicals to grow the crops in open fields.

The professor told Money that he first went round the country collecting information from farmers on what they would want included in the greenhouses before coming up with 12 different models.

Their prices vary, with the cheapest going for Sh55,000. He says nearly 96 per cent of all the farm produce in the local markets comes from small-scale farmers who depend heavily on weather patterns.

And due to lack of greenhouses, he says, there has either been scarcity or oversupply of farm products in the market. If the weather pattern favours the growth of a certain crop, many of the small-scale farmers will plant that crop, thus leading to overproduction. And as a result of this, farmers end up with very little in their pockets with others even going at a loss, he says.

At the moment, the country is facing a shortage of tomatoes, with a kilogramme going for between Sh120 and Sh200. With the mini-greenhouses, Prof Mehta says a good number of small-scale farmers willing to use them can ably grow a variety of crops at different times of the year, thus stabilising supply.

“If small-scale farmers can adapt such modern facilities, shortage and influx of certain farm produce can be controlled easily,” he notes.

The Swedish government recently donated Sh5 billion to the National Agriculture Sector Development Support Programme, with Kenya contributing Sh1 billion. From this fund, Sh1.2 billion will be used as credit guarantees to financial institutions while Sh3.8 billion will be used to implement the project.

Small-scale farmers are expected to benefit from these funds and now Prof Mehta says those willing to purchase the mini-greenhouses can seek credit support.

Fight food insecurity

The professor has also been moving round the country educating farmers on how to use the greenhouses.

So far, according to Dr Wanjiru Kamau, the chief executive officer of Mavuno Greenhouses Limited, the company that has been providing farmers with the mini-greenhouse, more than 400 small-scale farmers have bought and set up the greenhouses on their farms.

“Our aim is to empower the small-scale farmers meet their dream and grow organic food, as well as fight food insecurity,” she says.

Apart from fighting food insecurity and empowering small-scale farmers, Dr Kamau says that the other important aspect is to make sure that farmers minimise the use of chemicals in their farms.

However, a large number of the target farmers cannot raise the Sh55,000 required to buy a greenhouse. Therefore, the innovators are trying to come up with less expensive models.