Farmer pioneers cheap locally made greenhouses

Farmers can now access a locally assembled greenhouse at half the price of the ones currently in the market, thanks to an initiative by a former high school teacher who is building an empire from the venture.

Raphael Ngari the brains behind the local greenhouses says his greenhouse structures are made from locally available materials like timber, poles, nails and an ultra violet treated polythene paper. The timber and poles are first coated with wood preservative to safeguard it from termites. The poles are made more firm in the ground using cement guaranteeing the structure a life span of over 5 years. Raphael’s major competitive edge over the other structures in the market is the fact that he uses his practical knowledge and the skills he used to overcome challenges in his own greenhouse to advise and construct better structures for the clients.  On average, construction of one structure takes about 4 days.

The costing of the structures depends on the size with the small one of 8m-15m going for about Sh135,000. The cost includes the materials for construction, drip-kit for irrigation together with the tank, seeds, fertilizer, and soil preparation that entails solarization to kill pests and other bacterial causing diseases. In addition, Ngari adds that he is easily accessible and always available for any inquiries and consultation services from his clients in case of any complications with the crop or the structure unlike the imported structures being supplied by the farm inputs companies in the market which after a farmer purchasing it is left on his own.

He also designs and constructs a greenhouse according to the temperature and weather pattern of an area with the high roof  in hot areas and lower roof in cold areas a point he noted is never considered by most farm input companies who supply the structures in the market which are uniform in size and do not put into consideration any weather pattern hence resulting into low yields within the structures.

Ngari traces his interest in agriculture to his childhood school days. Despite his love for agriculture, it never occurred to him that at one point in life he will be a skilled manufacturer of local greenhouses and offer an alternative affordable technology to most smallholder farmers who can barely afford the expensive structures in the market. As fate would have it, after a two year stint in teaching, the father of two in a bid to make ends meet tried other ventures like operating a boutique shop before resolving to focus fully in commercial farming. After seeing a friend flourish in a greenhouse farming venture, he decided to borrow a leaf from him. Ngari met the pre-requisite of acquiring the skills of manufacturing  local greenhouses which were set by the friend some included paying a fee of Sh210,000 for 30m-8m size structure and participating in its construction.

Although the fee looked excessive, the budding farmer from Embu thinks otherwise noting that apart from owning the greenhouse, he gained the knowledge and skills on how to manufacture one. In an year, he had started realizing the profits from the structure. Ngari’s skills were bolstered by the training sessions that were introduced by scientists from Kenya Agricultural Research Institute Thika (KARI) on greenhouse management after a cry from most farmers for not realizing the yields promised by the proponents of the technique. “The visit by the KARI team was the major turning point in my venture as they gave me the most important skills of managing a greenhouse right from the land preparation to post harvest techniques,” noted Ngari.

Armed with both construction skills and crop management skills inside the structures, Ngari was ready to use his skills to make ends meet and also empower the farmers. In a period of one year, he has managed to manufacture over 7 structures and his network is steadily growing with about 5 weekly inquiries from various farmers who always have an interest in his local technology.

Given the fact that many smallholder farmers are struggling to make ends meet, Ngari has put this factor into consideration and consequently offers other costing to reduce the cost burden on the farmer and ensure affordability an easy access to this technology by many farmers. For instance, for farmers who have trees, they can split timber from their tree and acquire also poles a process that reduces the cost by over 40 percent. Similarly, he also charges labour cost only with farmers buying all the materials for the structure.

Although he pre-dominantly specializes in the manufacture of timber and pole greenhouse structures, he also hopes to venture into the manufacturing of similar structures made metal or steel. “I was recently invited by an expert to train in the manufacture of the metallic structures and I hope that after gaining the knowledge, I will be able to offer my clients both structures depending on one’s preference,” said Ngari.

Although Ngari has started small, he noted that he is constantly getting referrals with some inquiries coming as far as in Eldoret. Although, Ngari faces a marketing hurdle, he is optimistic that in a span of about 5 years, his exceptional services will position him as one of the renowned greenhouse manufacturer in the country. Due to increased pressure on land because of constant increase in population, greenhouse farming is quickly gaining prominence and it’s adoption is steadily increasing although the rate would be higher save for the prohibitive prices.

Innovations that tend to customize the structure according to a farmer financial muscle and location being introduced by Ngari is a promising one given the yields that the technology also promise. However,  Ngari cautioned, “The venture is only successful if a farmer involved is ready to acquire the skills and practice them because if one do not put them into practice then he stands to lose as there will be no increased yields. This is mostly common with people who do not want to practice farming on their own and depend a lot on workers and yet workers sometimes are not passionate about what they are doing.”

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