Some 550 farmers in Central and Eastern province have increased their sales of snow peas and sugar snaps ten-fold by using greenhouse tunnels, instead of growing the crops in open fields, where they were suffering from drought, excessive rainfall, pests and diseases that were rendering 85 per cent of their harvests unmarketable.
The greenhouse tunnels, which cover the crops, instead provide regulated climatic conditions and require less pest control, as pest attack is minimal. The results in the recent harvest was an average 48 per cent higher yield than in the open field.
However, only 15 per cent of the crops grown in the open field were marketable, due to being affected by diseases, but 98 per cent of the harvests from the tunnel-grown crops was good for sale. As a result, each tunnel generated an average gross income of Sh30,745 compared to only Sh3,188 from the open field.
The trials of the tunnels have been sponsored by Vegpro (K) Ltd, a major exporter of vegetables, fruits and flowers to the UK and Europe. “Peas are both a high-value and high-technology export crop for smallholders in high-altitude areas and their susceptibility to disease in harsh weather conditions is being addressed with the cost-benefit analysis involved in these tunnel trials,” said the company.
Phylis Ndemwa, one of the farmers in the project, and a former police officer, has now exported over 500kgs of sugar snap since she started with the project in December 2011. Taking a maximum of three months to mature, she has replaced tissue culture bananas with the lucrative pulses.
“It's becoming so easy just watching them grow without sweating myself out. Sometimes I just take my favourite book and just sit next to the snaps, just to relax and watch them,” she said. Mrs Ndemwa claims her favourite book is Export for Dummies, by John Capela, and has her eyes set firmly on the export market.
Investment in the tunnel, she said, cannot compare to the returns. Having invested some Sh40,000 to start 3 tunnels, she got over Sh30,000 from each tunnel in returns. “And am expanding in the next planting season, because we don't seem to match the growing demand,” she said.
VegPro also reports strong grwoth in demand, which is now seeing them work to raise awareness about the export opportunities for pods. Commodities like avocados and french beans, though still not flooded in the market, will become oversupplied as established countries like South Africa takes the industry by storm, the company argues. But farmers who concentrate on produce that is still virgin in the market, without such fierce competition, are likely to thrive for years to come.