The Nation (Nairobi)

Kenya: Making a Tidy Sum From a Low-Cost, Urban Greenhouse

Like many other Nairobi residents, Mr Simon Kamuyu would often buy groceries at least twice a week from Ngara market in the city for household use despite the prohibitive cost and distance from Karen estate -- where he lives.

Back at his residence in Karen, an upscale suburb in Nairobi, he used to grow crops on a piece of land out in the open, but he never thought of venturing into greenhouse farming despite being told that it would offer him higher yields at a much shorter period of time.

However, after consulting a few acquaintances, and giving a thought to the idea of venturing into greenhouse farming at his residence, he approached Amiran Kenya, a firm which sells greenhouse kits and irrigation equipment.

He bought the equipment at an average of Sh167,000. Reinforcements for the kit went for Sh24,000.

"We cleared a small area of about an eighth of an acre where we previously used to grow vegetables and set up the greenhouse in August last year. We planted tomatoes, coloured capsicum, cauliflower, spinach and sukuma wiki," Mr Kamuyu told Money in an interview.

He set aside Sh12,000 for an agronomist for expert advice once in a while, besides engaging the services of a professional caretaker for the greenhouse farm.

He also had to undergo basic training on greenhouse crop management to start him off. His monthly expenses on the greenhouse stand at about Sh20,000.

At first he wanted to provide his household with a constant supply of vegetables, which would cut down the cost of purchasing groceries every week.

But he later found out that there was a huge market for his produce, especially in restaurants, households and grocery stores.

"Our first major harvest from the greenhouse was in January this year. We realised there was a huge demand, especially for onions, tomatoes and vegetables. After doing some market research, we started to sell part of the produce. We made about Sh100,000 from the harvest. But we expect to have a monthly turnover of at least Sh150,000 from the one greenhouse in subsequent seasons," Mr Kamuyu said.

Mr Kamuyu expects to acquire another greenhouse in the next two weeks, a move that he says could triple his yields and turnover.

"We are also looking at venturing in greenhouse fish farming to diversify our activities. I have realised that the market is not a problem, but rather meeting the demand for fresh produce on a daily basis," he said.

Greenhouse farming is increasingly being adopted in the city and other parts of the country to boost food security.

Harvard Kennedy School Practice for International Development, Professor Calestous Juma, says greenhouse farming should be promoted in urban areas across the country to meet the growing consumer market, and as a way of adapting to climate change.

Prof Juma says this type of agriculture is a major step in ensuring food security in light of declining land and water availability, urbanisation and climate change.

"Cities like Nairobi should have well-staffed urban farming departments whose work would include hydroponics for vegetable and fish production. Much of the food production that happens in African cities does not enjoy the same level of technical support as rural activities do," Prof Juma said.

"Urban agriculture has already taken root in many parts of Kenya with the cultivation of sukuma wiki (kale). Greenhouse agriculture would be an extension of ongoing activities but will require technical extension support," he said.

The Professor further says that, the Netherlands, which is the world's second largest agricultural exporter, is half the size of Coast region in Kenya, but has nearly 10,000 greenhouse enterprises covering 10,000 hectares and producing nearly Sh498 billion ($6 billion) worth of flowers, fruit, plants and vegetables.

"Cities such as Nairobi should have well-staffed urban farming departments whose work would also include hydroponics for vegetable and fish production. Much of the food production that happens in African cities does not enjoy the same level of technical support as rural activities," Prof Juma said.

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