The reason for this fieldtrip was because George told us there was a farmer in the area around Siaya with a failed greenhouse farm. When doing field research, it is often very useful to look at where things went wrong as well than rather only looking at successes. We didn’t get to much information for George on forehand, so we went in with an open vision.
At first the conversation went a bit rough. The farmer only told us the benefits of greenhouse farming, but it looked like that he didn’t want to give to much details about what went wrong. After we convinced him that we know all about the benefits of greenhouse farming, he slowly started telling about the situation there at the farm.
The greenhouse farm began in June 2013, with 30 Amiran 8x24m greenhouses right from the start. The 8x24m size is the biggest seize of greenhouse that Amiran sells. So this is a massive capacity, especially here in Siaya. About the water harvest the farmer was quite clear, the river Yala is not a reliable source. He said the only options are rainwater capture and boreholes. Because of the presence of three boreholes, at this farm there was no rainwater capture system. Besides, Amiran doesn’t offer water gutters with its greenhouses, since they have no solution found to connect the gutter to the construction. The farm was started by a political figure, so that is probably where the budget came from to start this farm.
In the beginning the farm was very successful. There were growing tomato plants in separate bags, so they won’t get affected by bacterial wilt. This way the production can only reach 80% of the production when the tomato plants were directly planted in the soil. Because of the massive capacity and the additional safety, this wasn’t really a problem. The farm was even in the national newspapers because of the successes they made. They also had their time management very good under control. They started to plant at the end of the rain season, so they had their crops ready when the demand was high. Also did they make a spare living by giving training to local farmers who were interested in greenhouse farming.
But after 2,5 year things went downhill. We think the biggest problem is financial mismanagement. It didn’t become completely clear how it happened, but Kenya Power cut the power from the farm. We think this happened because of unpaid bills. When there is no power, there is no more water from the borehole because the pumps do not work without power. This farm used 1000L a day per greenhouse, without that water all the plants die. Without plants there are no revenues from selling, and the farm can’t pay it’s three employed farmers. This has been the situation for the last 13 months.
It is really bad to see such a big farm not being used because of mismanagement. In Kenya they call it a “White elephant”. This means there is something with enormous potential, but because the bills can’t be paid, it is worthless. There are also stories that Kenya Power cut the power because of political interest, but we don’t know what of this is true.
Mental notes for the Project
- If we are using pumps, make sure the energy is constant. Or use something like solar energy.
- The management of the greenhouse is more important than the build, without good management the build is useless.
- Growing tomatoes in bags is really a good option to prevent plants dying from bacterial wilt.