BY: ONOME AMUGE
Weather and climate conditions play an important role in determining the pace of crop production globally as unfavourable weather and climate conditions can prove to be a daunting challenge to achieving maximum yield in crop production.
At a time when the global food security strongly depends on crop production, while efforts to produce enough food to feed Nigeria’s teeming population remain affected by pests, drought, flooding, insecurity and other challenges, agriculture experts have called for the innovation of agriculture through the adoption of technology-driven solutions, alternative sources for food production and farm management practices that involve farming in a controlled environment to achieve sufficiency, increase high-quality production all year round, and improve market value of crops produced within the country.
One of the technologies that have been identified to easily address the country’s food production challenge is greenhouse farming technology, a farming technique that enables farmers to regulate the temperature and humidity of an enclosed space thereby making it possible for specific crops to thrive regardless of external weather conditions.
A greenhouse is a building or construction with glass sides and roof or polycarbonate structures in which plants that need protection from or are sensitive to weather are grown. Considering the variety of structures, green house construction also includes:
Glasshouses: structures covered with glass.
Shade houses: covered in woven or other material with gaps that allow sunlight, air, and moisture to pass.
Screen houses: covered with screening material that provides protection from pests and severe weather conditions, mostly practised in hot or tropical areas.
Crop top structures: structures without walls, covered only with a roof.
According to market intelligence firm, Verified Market Research, the global commercial greenhouse market was valued at $26.88 billion in 2019 and is projected to hit $49.31 billion by 2027, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.50 percent from 2020 to 2027.
Highlighting the relevance of greenhouse technology in producing varieties of fresh high-quality vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, and cucumber, Nike Mbulu, chief executive officer of Accent Integrated Farms in Lagos, noted that it is a temperature-controlled method of farming that protects the plants against harsh weather conditions.
Mbulu explained that the greenhouse method on her farm consists of ultra-violet (UV) regulated netting specially constructed to control the UV of sunlight which could be harmful to the type of crops cultivated on the farm.
According to her, crop production using greenhouse technology is an innovative method that enables farmers to grow more crops with less space and promotes the cultivation of temperate crops such as apples and cabbages.
Speaking in the same vein, Yaqub Ibrahim, chief executive officer of Greenhouse Techniques, a company that provides greenhouse facilities for farmers, said greenhouses have the capacity to revolutionise farming in Nigeria.
Ibrahim said the quality and quantity of crops grown in a greenhouse compared to open field farming are incomparable, especially in Nigeria, where farmers in open field do not pay attention to management in irrigation and fertiliser application.
He listed Rosalina indeterminate tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, baby cucumbers, bell peppers, sweet melons and watermelons as some of the crops that can be planted successfully in a greenhouse, adding that the combination of greenhouses with open field farming will help Nigeria in its drive towards achieving tomato sufficiency, support export of the commodity to other countries, which will in turn increase the revenue of producing states and the country at large.
“The common practice with tomato farmers is to apply NPK15:15:15 fertiliser from transplanting to harvest, this goes against the recommended practice, which inevitably hinders desired result, whereas in the greenhouse it’s all about management,” he stated.
Ibrahim further stressed that there are many uncertainties in open field farming such as adverse weather conditions, excessive rainfall, outbreaks of uncontrollable diseases, noting that such situations are very minimal or non-existent in greenhouse farming as water, temperature and disease are controlled to get the desired yield.
Commenting on the challenges of maintaining a greenhouse, he stated that the most challenging factors include cost involved in establishing a standard greenhouse which is estimated to be between N1.5 million and N3 million.
The Greenhouse Techniques CEO added that management and training of farmers on how to utilise the farming method has often posed a challenge as well.
“We offer training to our clients on management, but it’s heart-aching when clients do not pay attention to it which leads to undesired results,” he bemoaned.
In addressing these challenges, he suggested that the government at various levels as well as other key stakeholders can invest in the construction of greenhouses and possibly hire out to farmers just like hectares of land are hired out for the cultivation of vegetables such as tomatoes, bell pepper, cherry tomatoes and cucumber, among others, to guarantee good yield.
Ibrahim also observed that Nigeria has a population of over 180 million of which over 40 percent are youths, adding that no country excels in development without engaging youths in its development programmes.
He stated that the government can initiate partnerships with greenhouse experts to train Nigerian youths on how to operate and manage greenhouses. He added that the trained youths can, thereafter, be given appropriate support that will enable them to get engaged in greenhouse farming.
According to Ibrahim, a sharing formula can be structured in a way that proceeds from the yields can be shared between the government and the engaged youths, thereby creating employment and generating revenue for the government, while ownership of greenhouses can be transferred to those that are able to perform without default.
Oscar Walumbe, integrated project manager at Dizengoff Nigeria, an agriculture technology company, asserted that one of the major advantages of greenhouse farming is that producers can cultivate vegetables and crops at any time of the year, especially when they can’t be grown outdoors.
He explained that this is because it allows producers to extend the seasons and produce a wide range of vegetables in both rural and urban areas.
“Greenhouse farming is essentially done in a controlled environment limiting the devastating effects of insect pests and diseases that ravage vegetables, including tomatoes. It is not rain-fed but brain-fed, as it comes complete with a customised drip irrigation system.
With little amount of land space and water, you are sure to get a yield far higher than your traditional open field production,” he stated.
In choosing the relevant crops to grow for profit, Walumbe advised farmers using greenhouse to figure out the right combination of profitable plant varieties, sizes, and quantities and grow out-of-season crops such as tomatoes, lettuce, basil, and other vegetables where they can command high prices in the market.