From rags to riches with greenhouse technology

Community agriculture projects and smallholder farmers in Africa can benefit tremendously from utilising greenhouse technology.

Greenhouses protect crops from too much heat or cold, shield plants from dust storms and blizzards, and help to keep out pests.

Greenhouses protect crops from too much heat or cold, shield plants from dust storms and blizzards, and help to keep out pests.

This has been demonstrated at the Tshwaraganang community project in the isolated town of Windsorton, situated in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province.

The project was initiated by the provincial government, who commissioned a feasibility study for a greenhouse production unit in the area. After the study was completed, a tender was put out for the construction of the greenhouse infrastructure. The tender was won by Vegtech 2000 – a South African company, with over sixteen years’ experience in greenhouse projects, growing, construction and accessory supply – and by 2006 work was completed on the 3,600 m2 greenhouse.

After a rocky start, Agribusiness in Sustainable Natural African Plant Products (ASNAPP), a NGO with offices in a number of countries across the continent, in 2008 was called in to develop a business plan and provide training to the local farmers. This was the effective birth of Tshwaraganang Hydroponics, a hydroponics project involving the “soil-free” cultivation of cucumbers, tomatoes and brinjals.

ASNAPP secured a deal to supply cucumbers to Freshmark, a subsidiary of pan-African supermarket group Shoprite and responsible for the retailer’s fruit and vegetable procurement and distribution. Freshmark in Bloemfontein signed a supply agreement with Tshwaraganang, having formally registered the project as one of its permanent supply sources. This provided Tshwaraganang Hydroponics with a ready market for its produce. This project has been a great success.

In February 2010, in less than 18 months since selling commenced, Tshwaraganang Hydroponics crossed the R1 million sales mark. This was a significant achievement for a community that until the project started had virtually no income.

Freshmark is now set to open up its pepper and tomato supply chains to Tshwaraganang. A modern packhouse facility is also currently under construction and there are plans to expand the greenhouse production base to at least a hectare.

Vegtech’s Alex Hofmeyr believes there is tremendous scope for similar greenhouse projects in other parts of the continent, especially in areas that are too dry or too wet for open field cultivation. “Greenhouses is the way in which agriculture is moving. It allows farmers to produce better quality crops with fewer inputs such as water and chemicals,” explains Hofmeyr.