June 6,2016,Nairobi. As the country looks to new and innovate ways of producing food with minimum resources like water, fertilizer and synthetic crop protection methods, a new project is breathing new life to that resolve by introducing unique Dutch greenhouse technology as it seeks to bolster farming for business among vegetable farmers growers.
The program, dubbed Growing Solutions Kenya, is funded by the Dutch government, implemented by a consortium of 11 Dutch technology providers and is implemented by The program is implemented in partnership with Latia Resource Center where the demonstration greenhouses are located.
The idea behind the programme is to introduce Dutch technology that is adapted to local conditions chief among them automation combined with training farmers and other agricultural officers.
At Latia Resource Center, Off-pipeline Road Isinya, three greenhouse demonstration units have been set up where interested farmers are trained on key farming practices including biological pest control methods, hydroponics and economical use of water.
“Water is a scarce resource and with changes in weather we need to be prepared for more acute shortages. This technology means that growers are least concerned about water because the project manages every drop of water through an automated system while limiting diseases risks through a soilless growing technology,” said Nico de Groot the Project Coordinator of Growing Solutions Kenya
Although the project hopes to scale to other vegetables, its premier focus has been on tomato due to the crop’s importance in the country. It has been classed as the third most important vegetable in the country in production and consumption with Kenya producing having produced 494,036.5 tonnes of tomato with a market value of $15.8billion last year.
Three greenhouse systems have been set up to demonstrate to farmers the possibilities of producing high quality tomatoes at high quality levels. Based on different technologies, the greenhouses have been set up to allow smaller, start- up farmers to start with the basic technology setting while offering opportunities for larger, more experienced growers to invest in the next level of greenhouse production technology. “We have the basic unit, the semi- automated and the fully automated pilot unit to allow farmers sample what they feel comfortable with. Of course technology is varied in the three greenhouses and so are the growing conditions,” added Mr. De Groot.
The basic greenhouse also dubbed the basic module has gutters that are 4 meters from the ground with a fixed ventilation window at the top of the greenhouse. Its sides are open and covered with insect netting to ward off predators. The internal frame is strong enough to support the crop load while crops here are grown in soil. Water and fertilizer are also applied manually through drip lines.
The semi automatic greenhouse which is also called the Plus module is designed similarly to the manual one but provides the option of opening and closing the top vent and side walls. This is done manually. Unlike the basic module water and fertilizer application is automated through a computerized machine: FertiMix-Go. This allows for timely and controlled application of fertilizer and water according to a pre set schedule as per the needs of the plants. Crops in this this greenhouses are grown in the soil.
The advanced module which is the superior greenhouse technology of the three is fully automated. The internal growing climate is fully controlled by a unique process controlling device known as iSii Compact. The greenhouse has a movable screen to protect the plants from surplus sunlight during middays and optimize the growing climate. Production is on hydroponics in a 50- 50 per cent mixture of coco peat and pumice.
The project which has attracted farmers from Naivasha, Machakos, Kiambu and Murang’a clusters the farmers in groups of 15 to 20 in trainings that happens once every month for six months before farmers graduate. “We have different training sessions like fertigation, crop management and financial training on crops that can give maximum returns on investment. We also ensure that training has a theoretical component, we give the farmers as much time as is possible- practical exposure specifically interacting with the various greenhouse technologies. It is important if we are to ensure that knowledge transfer is effective,” Mr. De Groot said.
As a health conscious middle class burgeons, dictating the choice of food they take and changes in weather bring new challenges like water scarcity and emergence of new pests and diseases, Growing Solutions project is keen on tapping more farmers into its technology, letting farmers worry less about crop production and focus on other key aspects of value chain like markets.
During field days the Growing Solutions greenhouse units are open to farmers. The next field day will be on June 7th on the advantages of Dutch greenhouse technology. Farmers interested in training can contact the resource center to learn more about the various packages.
For more information on the project contact:
+254705788 689/ +254 (0) 716 431 054 (Latia Resource Center)