By Catherine Muraguri
Cost and Equipment
The smallest greenhouse should be 8m x 15m, wooden and costs from Ksh. 100, 000 to put up. This includes the green house structure, drip irrigation system and a tank to provide water. The cost of seedlings, maintenance costs that include payments to agronomists, supervisors and farm hands are not included. Of critical concern is the source of water. As this issue goes to press, the La Nina phenomenon continues to bite in Kenya and drought has set in.
Tunnels are small green houses and cover a small area, a 1/4 acre and below. Larger green houses cover a 1/4 and above. There are two main types of green houses, based on structure: simple tunnels which use fabricated wood and the farmer purchases polythene bags.
The metallic green houses are manufactured by suppliers who are available locally. The suppliers set up the greenhouse structures for the farmer.
Wooden greenhouses last for about two years after which one has to build a new one due to the wear and tear of the wooden poles. The farmer also has to guard against termites which means the wood has to be treated.
Mr. Gilbert Towett of AGRO Nurseries says the metallic structures are better as they last up to 10 years; only the polythene which is a self regulator, has to be replaced. Before planting any type of crop in a green house, it is prudent to consult an agronomist or soil expert who will advice on the type of soil to plant a particular crop. For example, tomatoes thrive in non-acidic soil with lots of manure and fertilizer. Water also has to be tested so the farmer may clear it of any organisms that may negatively affect the crop.
The obvious major disadvantage of green housing is the prohibitive cost, unaffordable to many Kenyans who live on less than Ksh.100 a day; so green house is for the middle class and wealthy. However there are financial institutions that can provide loans with repayment options. Green housing is labour intensive requiring to spend a significant amount of time tending to the crops. For greenhouse to succeed, one needs the advice of a specialist thus you will have to dig deeper into pocket.
Greenhouse farming is practiced all year round therefore the farmer has to know when to plant and harvest his crops for maximum gains. When there is a shortage of a particular crop in the market, the farmer can gain huge profits when selling his produce.
A Side Hassle?
Young urbane Kenyans ask if green house farming can be a side hassle. Mr. Sam Gathigi of Gramonra Gardens thinks it’s possible. “You will not be at your green house all the time so train someone on how to run your green house and you will be fine,” he says. However, you have to take overall charge and care of your green house or you will loose your investment.
Since it is mainly horticultural crops that can be grown in a green house, the profits from green house farming can be used for conventional farming; for example the profits gotten from planning peppers or tomatoes can be used to grow maize and beans. The proceeds also improve purchasing power, thereby improving the standards of living of the farmer.
One of the key pillars of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is the eradication of extreme poverty and enhancing food security. Kenya is one of the countries that is termed as a water scarce nation. Rainfall has continued to diminish and it is now unpredictable to know when the country will have sufficient rainfall for crops that will be enough to carry its citizenry to harvest time.
Kenya’s Middle Class
Green House farming has been touted as an activity that will aid he country attain food sufficiency thereby playing a part in solving Kenya’s persistent food problems. The midddle class can afford to put 2 or more green houses and market the crops grown.
Mr Gathigi, who runs the Rural-Urbanite program on his farm that has several green houses says that with the advent of Rural Urban migration, green housing also brings families together. “People can farm as a family. You do not have to subdivide land. Have a greenhouse, sell the proceeds and then invest in another green house,” he says. This brings families closer together as they work and till the ground together.
“Green housing is a hobby which if well taken care of can bring in good money. “You don’t have to go to Mashambani to farm, it can be done right here in the city”, he adds emphatically. Since green house farming requires little space, it can be done by people coming in from the rural areas to the cities.
As much as it is capital intensive, Greenhousing is creating employment in hitherto undesirable jobs. A few years ago, being an agronomist or agricultural officer was seen as a lucklustre career. Actually it was discouraged to study these courses. Nowadays, they are needed to provide advice to up coming farmers on the suitability of soil to plant crops
For more information, contact:
Sam Gathigi – www.gramonragardens.com
Gilbert Towett, AGRO Nurseries, 020-2434576 – Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture