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"Greenhouses don't work in Kenya"

In March, Peter Wangai, the CEO of Goldenscape Greenhouses, was charged with defrauding Kenyan farmers in a greenhouse scam. Through his company, Wangai promised unsuspecting investors returns of as high as $2,750 every six months for each greenhouse investment made through his firm. Local dailies reported that some customers lost as much as $18,400 in the well-orchestrated scheme. While the scam is a sad tale of exploitation, it illustrates the sorry state of greenhouses in Kenya, writes Samson Opanda in an opinion article in intpolicydigest.org. 

Greenhouses were first introduced in the country in the early 2000s. Typically, they consist of walls and roofs made of solar absorbent material, enclosing crops planted in the structures. The idea here is to create optimal conditions for plant growth within the greenhouses to increase crop productivity. By doing so, farmers investing in the structures can expect improved yields compared to conventional farming methods. While the technology seems to work well outside of Africa, the situation is different in Kenya, where sights of abandoned greenhouses are fairly common. Research confirms this sad state by noting that at least 30% of all greenhouses in the country are nonfunctional. These statistics lead to an important question: why has the technology failed despite its immense potential and success in other countries?

The reasons cited by one study for the failure of greenhouses include pests, crop diseases, limited water supply, investment costs, and limited understanding of the technology by farmers. Additional reasons from another study include political interference and poor water quality. One thing stands out from these findings, and that is context. The term context here refers to the unique circumstances of Kenyan farmers compared to other regions of the world. Without proper contextual information, agricultural solutions borrowed from other areas and imported into Africa fail miserably. So what lack of contextual information may have led to the failure of greenhouses in Kenya, you ask?

First, like many African countries, Kenya is dominated by small-scale farmers, who account for over 80% of local production. These farmers are mostly poor, and their farming is largely for subsistence purposes. In the few instances when farming leads to higher returns, the cash goes to other commitments such as healthcare and education. In short, farmers hardly earn enough to come out of their vicious cycle of poverty to at least reinvest profits back into their farms. For such farmers, the operations and maintenance costs of greenhouses are just too high. This point is perhaps why some researchers list investment costs as a probable reason for the failure of greenhouses. While many excited farmers could raise the cash for installing the structures, their income level could not allow them to continue operating the greenhouses, leading to the eventual failure of the technology.

Read the complete article at www.intpolicydigest.org.


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