Kenyan farmers turn to makeshift greenhouses amid climate variability

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farmers
farmers

The 10-meter by 15-meter structure on the farm in Murang’a, central Kenya, is made of timber and polythene sheet for the walls and roof.

The polythene material that is wearing out may make one dismiss it from afar, but that is until you get closer. Inside the makeshift greenhouse are dozens of fruit seedlings thriving.

The seedlings consisting of grapes and apples, among others, are lush green and healthy, compared to others that are in the open field.

“I have more than 500 seedlings in here,” farmer Peter Ng’ang’a, who specializes in seedlings propagation said recently. “I shifted to greenhouse farming three years ago to escape the harsh weather which was killing my crops,” he added.

Since he did not have at least 150,000 shillings (1,500 U.S. dollars) to buy a factory-made steel structure, he improvised the greenhouse using locally available material.

“I bought wooden poles, nails, binding wires and the polythene cover then hired a carpenter to do the job,” said Ng’ang’a, who spend 200 U.S. dollars on the structure that has cushioned his crops from climate variability.

Ng’ang’a is one of the tens of small farmers in the east African nation who have embraced the makeshift structures to produce food and reap from agribusiness.

Inside the structures that are either made of shade net or polythene sheets, the farmers are growing mainly horticultural crops like tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and capsicum and fruits like strawberries, besides seedlings.

It is these farmers who are currently supplying food to markets across the east African nation as most of the crops grown in the field were destroyed by last season heavy rains.

“I made my own greenhouse last year from wooden poles and shade net and planted tomatoes, which I harvested this month and sold a kilo at 1 dollar, double the normal price,” said Antony Musau, a farmer in Kitengela, south of Nairobi, adding he earned some 1,200 dollars from his 8m by 15m greenhouse.

Last year was among the worst for Kenyan farmers as the weather was extremely erratic. The country experienced a very dry spell between January and April followed by a short rain season and a very cold spell, according to the Meteorological Department.

These weather conditions ushered in an extended period of rains from October 2019 to January 2020 that washed away crops.

With the erratic weather conditions, new pests and diseases did not only emerge but crops were affected by the climatic challenges.

Those who grew crops in greenhouses, however, were cushioned from the weather losses and are among those who are selling products like tomatoes, whose price has soared to an all-time high of 0.50 dollars for three pieces.

“Greenhouses cushion crops from extreme weather conditions like a dry spell, heavy rains or coldness, allowing plants to thrive. They are part of climate-smart farming because one farm through irrigation and in an environment they can control,” said Beatrice Macharia, an agronomist with Growth Point, an agro-consultancy in Kajiado County.

According to her, crops like tomatoes thrive well in greenhouses because they need cool and dry places.

“Inside greenhouses, a farmer avoids diseases like early and late blight which are caused by rains and cold weather, therefore, he is assured of harvest,” Macharia said.

She noted that most Kenyan farmers over the years had shunned the structures because of their high costs but climate change is making them improvise to grow food. Enditem

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