In a country like Rwanda with little arable land and high population density, greenhouse farming is a very attractive option, since it allows complete control of the environment. Yet the investment required scares many farmers away.
At college Ami des Enfants in Kinyinya sector, Gasabo district, stand three giant shelters of transparent plastic that covers it from roof to the bottom. Each shelter is 8 meters wide and 40 meters long.
Inside you see very long lines of tomato plants measuring about 5 meters and small pathways between lines. There are also small water pipes used to irrigate the plants with water from a tank nearby. Each shelter has a small window just near the roof as well as a door, both made of transparent plastic materials.
They are shelters used for greenhouse farming, a type of farming that the ministry of agriculture is currently promoting in Rwanda as a strategy to improve crop yields in a country short of agricultural farm land. Plants are raised and cultivated on a very small space under a fully controlled environment – rather than outdoor where one cannot control all kinds of environmental hazards.
Although this kind of farming scares many people because of the cost, it has very many advantages in addition to the high yields, says Charles Muhayimana, the director of College Ami des Enfants.
“It ensures high yields, it’s unbelievable,” says Muhayimana. “For business-oriented people, this in itself can be a very lucrative business.”
Muhayimana says his school has been running the greenhouse business since last year in December. In the space of eight months, the school has harvested over 24 tons of tomatoes from the three greenhouses. The yield would have been much more had it not been for the poor quality of some of the plastic covers, which affected some crops.
With Anna F1’s tomato breed in the greenhouses, the school’s leader estimates the yields are 8 times higher compared to what they could have got if they had practiced open-field farming, because the greenhouses enable them to regulate the environment. And the quality is very high too. “They are very big and can stay for two weeks without rotting,” says Muhayimana.
Victor Dusabimana, an agronomist who has also been using greenhouses to grow tomatoes not far from the College, explains that the plastic covers protect crops from too much heat or cold, shield plants from dust storms, and help to keep out pests. Light and temperature control allows greenhouses to turn useless land into arable one, thereby improving food production in environments that are not well suited for agriculture. And the transparency of the covers has a significant role too. “It ensures plenty of sunlight to photosynthesize,” Dusabimana explains.
Apart from tomatoes, greenhouses can also be used to grow flowers, all kinds of vegetables, fruits and pulses, among others.
Despite the many advantages greenhouse farming offers, this type of farming is not yet very common in the country, even though there is a shortage of land. According to available statistics, more than 60% of households cultivate less than 0.7 ha. This makes greenhouse farming a very suitable option for Rwanda.
At the ministry of agriculture, they recognize the potential of this kind of farming in the country. Ernest Ruzindaza, the permanent secretary, says measures are being put in place to encourage private investors into this kind of farming. It is in this regard that some programs like Rural Investment Facility (RIF2) have been set up to offer financial support to organizations and entrepreneurs to make productive investments in agriculture, he explains.
“RIF2 offers to cover part of an investment in projects all along the agricultural chain,” Ruzindaza says.
Other measures taken by Minagri focus specifically on greenhouse farming. Earlier this year, Agriculture Minister Agnes Kalibata met with interested parties to see how they can be supported.
“It needs lots of commitment from the farmer. What we do is facilitate interested people in the private sector by giving them tax breaks on greenhouse materials, because it’s not cheap” Kalibata said. “We are also working on strengthening our capacity to deal with extension for greenhouse farmers.”