The Dutch Green Farming programme has set up solar energy and water management demonstration projects in Kenya to provide information on the latest technology, collect data and also serve as research hubs for university students.
The two projects are being driven by Dutch firms – Van Zaal Techniek, Bosman Engineering, Hoogendoorn and DLV Plant– that are partners in the 25-member Green Farming programme.
On the energy front, it is now possible to collect and store solar power. This is good news for clean energy initiatives as the world shifts focus to green generation. According to experts, green energy can be used to heat the greenhouses in the coldest hours at night and in the early mornings to control diseases such as botrytis and achieve 15 per cent more production as opposed to non-green energy.
Speaking on behalf of Green Farming in Nairobi at IFTEX 2013 in June, Martin Helmich, Export Director of Hoogendoorn said that this partners have developed technologies for collection and storage of solar energy in huge batteries, a development that enables 24-hour availability of clean power. He made a presentation on solar energy during the Green Farming seminar titled: Sustainable Energy & Greenhouse Climate Management.
The technology, he said, is an independent system that is not encumbered in the national grid. He said that unlike before when the solar panels and systems for greenhouses were costly, it is now cheaper and payback time is two to five years due to new technologies.
Green Farming partners Bosman and Van Zaal Techniek are in the process of setting up a solar demonstration project in Kenya, at Olij flower farm. Martin explains that since Kenya is a sunny country, if growers harnessed solar energy, most of their needs for power would be solved. “Solar energy is cheaper than hydro by a big percentage”, he said.
`The reason for selecting Kenya is that the country has a well developed flower sector and is centrally located therefore offers a good ground for developing an Africa-designed energy solution that would work under the continent’s circumstances.
In an environment where energy is costly and unstable, the solar solution costs about 12 cents besides its being always available after installation.
He gave examples in France and Japan that have huge projects of this nature, giving encouragement to tap the opportunity in Africa. “In Europe we have large wind and solar farms and I am looking forward to a day when we can grow energy in Kenya. Nothing else grows in these farms; they are equipped with energy generation equipment.
Then, there is the matter of taxes on equipment in the country, and Martin recommends that the government considers placing generation of solar energy as crucial and waive the levies to make them affordable.
The same sentiments are echoed by his counterpart at Bosman Mr. Marco Braam, who says that the 93-year-old engineering firm is considering setting up a factory in the country specializing in water engineering technology and advice. The firm prides itself in its turnkey solutions that also offer construction and local maintenance of irrigation and climate control systems, reservoirs, boreholes, general electric and solar systems.
He added that studies conducted on the latest technologies for horticulture indicate that modern irrigation systems come with machines designed to allow any crop to continue growing at 30 per cent savings on water usage, quality of crop, less application of fertilizers, less cost of inputs, better yields and increased earnings.
Green Farming is a consortium of Dutch horticulture technology companies that is seeking partnerships in East Africa through which the highly efficient technology used in the developed economies can be introduced and expanded in the region.
By Catherine Riungu