We discuss the usefulness of greenhouses in Agriculture; what they are, where they have had great impacts on farm outputs, and how other African countries can incorporate them,
The farming landscape in Africa is presently undergoing a revolution targeted at sustainable food production - especially as regards fruits and vegetables. Part of this is due to an increasing interest (and investment) in greenhouse farming systems.
Greenhouses are a viable solution to several challenges, notably land availability and size, climate impact on crops, and availability of food. However, the cost of setting up and maintaining a standard greenhouse may be intimidating to small-scale farmers. Nevertheless, building a customized greenhouse within a farmer’s budget is possible; so long as he/she is committed to sustaining it.
Greenhouses: Success Stories in Africa and Beyond
The largest greenhouse in the world is the Eden Project currently in the United Kingdom. It is made up of two biomes: the Rainforest Biome which covers 1.56 hectares and is used for tropical plants like banana, rubber, and coffee, and; the Mediterranean Biome, covering 0.65 hectares and is used for temperate plants.
In Africa, the largest greenhouse farm so far occupies a land area of 250 square meters in Konza City, Kenya. The project operates a smart hydroponics greenhouse technology, which uses self-correcting algorithms and crop data to make informed decisions. Owned and set up by Charles Oduk in 2017, the greenhouse uses minimal water and no soil. This is of advantage in Kenya's arid and semi-arid environments.
Amadou Sidibe, a fruit and vegetable farmer from Mali, is another beneficiary of greenhouse farming. Sidibe openly disclosed how his farm yields have massively improved as a result of his network of greenhouses across Sub-Saharan Africa. In Mali, Congo, Chad, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, and Guinea, Sidibe's greenhouses continue to produce fruits and vegetables both in-season and out-of-season. Thus, a continuous supply of these foods all year round is guaranteed.
Sidibe has partnered with Israeli irrigation systems manufacturer, Netafim, as a consultant. He now builds customized, inexpensive greenhouses for other farmers, following the success of his own greenhouse projects.
Other African countries such as South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and Morocco continue to invest heavily in greenhouse farming projects as we speak.
More Nigerian farmers are setting up greenhouse farms as well, combined with top-notch agricultural practices (such as hydroponics technology). The largest greenhouse farm in Nigeria to date is the Wells Hosa Greenhouse farm in Edo state. At least 1,000 hectares of greenhouse farmlands are presently located in Nigeria, with most of them found in Northern Nigeria. Greenhouses are presently domiciled in states such as Kano, Sokoto, Katsina, Kaduna, Lagos and Ogun states (with new ones springing up nationwide).
About Greenhouses: Purpose, Types and Benefits
A greenhouse is an enclosed structure with transparent/translucent walls and ceilings, and controlled environmental conditions, set up for growing crops. Such controlled conditions include regulated temperature, supply of water, humidity, ventilation, controlled exposure to sunlight and heat, nutrients, as well as protection from pests and diseases. Greenhouses of all shapes and sizes are installed around the globe, adapted to overcome different climatic conditions. There are cool greenhouses and warm greenhouses.
They are particularly useful in environments that naturally suffer scarcity of water (such as desert lands). Lands prone to high volumes of rainfall or floods, which are detrimental to the growth of vegetables, also benefit immensely from greenhouse farming. Thus, greenhouse crops are grown and made available all year round. In essence, damage to crops due to unfavourable weather conditions can be easily avoided, subsequently mitigating food shortage.
Greenhouse farming is also a recognized source of employment for the local people. Just as well, it provides a steady income for farmers, who supply farm produce to a well-researched and ready market. This is a definite way to reduce poverty (especially in developing countries).
Several food crops have been successfully nurtured in greenhouses. They include a huge variety of vegetables, berries, citrus, herbs, decorative plants, green peas, root crops and much more. Tomatoes account for over 50 percent of greenhouse production worldwide. Furthermore, farmers have reported between up to 25 percent higher crop yield and quality in greenhouses than is obtainable from the same measurement of land on open fields.
Greenhouses are typically made from sheets of transparent (or translucent) plastic or glass; supported on wood, bamboo or metal frames. Other applicable building materials include circulation fans (chimneys), non-waterproof nets, shade screens, as well as misting/fogging and hosing equipment.
Greenhouse Statistics across the World
Investment in the commercial greenhouse market worldwide grew from $29.69 billion in 2022 to $32.97 billion in 2023, according to the Research and Markets website. The commercial greenhouse market is also projected to grow up to 49.26 billion US Dollars by 2027.
In a recent report, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also stated that the global land area committed to greenhouse farming was an estimated 9.5 million hectares as of 2021. Land investment in greenhouse farming also experienced an annual growth rate averaging around 5.6 percent between 2000 and 2021.
An estimated 496,800 hectares of land area worldwide was utilized for greenhouse vegetable production in 2019. Additionally, almost 80 percent of all global land areas under greenhouse farming are in eight countries, namely China, Spain, South Korea, Japan, Turkey, Italy, Morocco, and France. The Netherlands and Israel are also the foremost global suppliers of greenhouse technologies to many developing countries (in addition to both countries having significant greenhouse farm cultivation areas).
It is noteworthy that between 2021 and 2022, the Netherlands became the largest global producer of greenhouse farming crops - accounting for over 50 percent of the European Union’s total greenhouse vegetable production. In fact, the Netherlands committed no less than 9,300 hectares of land to greenhouse farming. China became the world’s second leading producer of greenhouse farming crops, accounting for about $7.3 billion of produce (mostly vegetables and flowers). The United States came third in global greenhouse crop production at $3.6 billion of produce. Other notable producers include Spain, Italy, and France.
European nations are currently the global leaders in the greenhouse export market. An estimated 5.3 billion Euros in export value of greenhouse vegetables and fruits was sold by European Union countries to non-EU countries in 2022. Switzerland leads the European export market for EU greenhouse produce, accounting for 23 percent of all exports. This is followed by the Netherlands, Norway and Belarus. The most exported greenhouse produce was tomatoes, followed by peppers and cucumbers.