Kenya’s agro input companies are entering the smallholder farmers’ greenhouse market, long a preserve of large scale farmers, as farmers look for innovative year round ways to produce food without relying on rains.
With three quarters of farms in Kenya being managed by smallholder farmers, who are now expressing appetite for modern farming techniques that shield them from failed rains, agro input companies seems to have noticed, listened and are now responding.
Traditionally and for a long time, greenhouses have been a preserve of large scale farms and a few smallholder farmers who have the financial might. This has locked the bulk of farmers, who are a crucial constituency in food production and feeding a growing population.
A typical greenhouse costs between Sh120, 000 and Sh250, 000 depending on size and materials used. Most of them occupy a considerable bigger space.
The irony has been that even as the country focuses on breaking the hunger cycle by empowering the smallholder farmers, no tangible interventions have been rolled out to ensure that farmers are mitigated against the vagaries of weather.
“Our lands are barren now. We rely on rains. Of course we have been in the food production business for long and would want to continue doing it. We have heard about greenhouses but the costs are prohibitively high I cannot even imagine getting one even on credit,” said Jude Njamba a farmer in Gatanga.
Now agro input companies have rolled out various measures in making greenhouse synonymous with smallholder farmers. One such company is Elgon Kenya which recently imported polythene sheets making machine from Israel becoming the first of its kind in the country.
Traditionally import the polythene sheets or source them locally. “But in our case we have brought this machine here because we are keen on quality and price which have been the biggest concern for our farmers,” said Mr. Nelson Maina the communication officer at Elgon Kenya. This, according to Mr. Maina is the first step in entering into low cost greenhouses specifically meant for smallholder farmers
“We are keen on tapping into the smallholder farmers to adopt the greenhouse technology, because we strongly believe that farmers’ access to this innovation is key in enhancing the country’s food security and taming the hunger cycle,” said Mr. Mahesh Sharma the head of business in agriculture at Elgon Kenya.
The importation of the machine from Israel, world renowned for its prowess in technology, now means Elgon Kenya becomes among leading companies regionally to make and assemble greenhouse technologies as it positions itself as a regional giant in matters agriculture and food security.
“With this machinery it now means we will spearhead top notch high quality in production of greenhouse covers and sheets while lowering cost of production and importation which we will pass to our customers. It is a landmark step which we hope will benefit Kenya big time,” added Mahesh.
The decision by the company to balance between large scale and small scale farmers, and particularly lay emphasis on smallholder access to greenhouses, comes at a time when changes in climate have taken a toll on smallholder farmers with barren land and dipping yields becoming an everyday reality.
Farmers frustrated by the failed rains and unproductive farms have given up farming, a state that is fanning the hunger cycle in the country.
Government has stepped in, aware of the catastrophic effect of climate change to farms, and opened up millions of acreage to irrigation, water harvesting and digging up of water dams. “The biggest headache for smallholder farmers while embracing modern farming technology is cost and quality. We want to remove those concerns and leave the farmers concerned with the only duty that should be their only way. Producing food and feeding the nation. That is why we have gone into the greenhouse business,” said Maina.
Elgon’s entry into the greenhouse business is timely, comes at a time when reports have shown that smallholder farmer led innovation like irrigation are key in near tripling of Sub Saharan Africa’s yields.