Africa’s agriculture sector has made significant progress over the years, but despite the progress, the continent remains a net importer of food. This is despite having 60 per cent of the world’s uncultivated arable land.
Africa will have a population of 2 billion by 2050, and agriculture will be central to feeding all of those people. Scientists recommend that agricultural transformation must happen to achieve that.
When Andrew Mugabe, 28, and Innocent Mutabazi, 25, learned about this, two years ago, the two young agriculture entrepreneurs thought there was no better way around it but to be part of the process.
One of the founders of Gasabo Model Farm checks a bell pepper in his greenhouse in Kigali. Photos by Julius Bizimungu.
“I read a report by FAO (Food Agriculture Organisation) when I was still at the University that indicated the potential that was in agriculture. That report highlighted that there was a gap in food production,” Mugabe, a graduate of University of Rwanda, says of the genesis of their agribusiness journey.
When he told his University colleague about it, it was not long enough before he was convinced to join hands to start something. The idea, however, was to do business differently.
“What was on top of our mind was to use technology to change the way agriculture is conducted locally,” Mugabe narrates.
A bell pepper plant grown in a greenhouse. This is one of the popular crops powered by greenhouse technology.
And that is exactly what the two Rwandan entrepreneurs embarked on – they have become advocates of technology, particularly greenhouse technology as a way to improve productivity.
From moving away from traditional farming to adopting modern agriculture practices, these entrepreneurs strongly believe agriculture can transform and become a mainstay for the African population.
That point holds water; trends in technology continue to evolve in new ways to meet the demands of the planet’s growing populations.
From a small scale trader using latest software to manage his stock and financials to a tea farmer receiving his earnings on his mobile telephone, farmers are finding productive ways of doing things.
Trends in agriculture, too, have continued to evolve. From low-tech tunnel and hoop houses to vertical farming and hydroponic greenhouses, food growers are combining best growing practices with the latest advancements to make the best out of what they do.
Mugabe and Mutabazi who are behind ‘Gasabo Model Farm’ are convinced that the continent can do much more with greenhouse technology, and their startup wants to do just that.
The two are using greenhouse technology to grow crops 365 days of the year.
“With this technology, we are able to grow crops in a totally controlled environment,” they say.
Greenhouse Technology is simply the technique of providing favourable environment condition to the plants.
Greenhouses are framed or inflated structures covered with transparent or translucent material large enough to grow crops under partial or full controlled environmental conditions.
The indoor farm is independent of seasonality and weather and with it, they can grow more crop cycles than the open field does and attain more yield per every crop cycle.
“The technology is generally not new as it has been practiced for many years but here (in Rwanda), we haven’t adopted it on large scale,” the entrepreneurs say.
Inside Gasabo Model Farm
A quick trip to Gasabo Model Farm’s greenhouses gives one a picture of what it could mean once this technology is adopted widely.
The greenhouses house bell peppers and tomatoes. The crops are grown in a controlled environment and don’t rely exclusively on rain fall, sunshine or fertility of the soil.
“This is because inside these greenhouses are irrigation systems programmed to pour the same amount of water on plants. The coverings of the houses are also transparent, which means if the sun disappears, there is heat that is retained,” Mugabe explains during a tour at the facility.
The entrepreneurs currently own two greenhouses that are able to accommodate about 600 plants each. Each plant is expected to have produced at least 12 – 16 kilogrammes throughout its lifespan of about three months.
“When you do this in an open field, the highest you could get is 4 kilos per plant. If everything goes well, there is a difference of 400 per cent,” Mugabe says.
Gasabo Model Farm targets to establish two more greenhouses of bell peppers, chili and cherry and traditional tomatoes, before this year ends. But the big idea is to have more greenhouses across different parts of the city that could be managed by households.
The entrepreneurs recommend investment in and adoption of greenhouses in Rwanda as the main practice, suggesting that if you were a modern farmer, you would produce more on a small greenhouse of 8 metres by 24 metres than on an open field of one hectare.
But it’s not an easy way out.
Establishing one greenhouse could cost more than what one would invest in an open field regardless of how much productivity targeted. For instance, building one greenhouse could cost about Rwf4 million, they say.
According to the entrepreneurs, this is because there are monopolistic tendencies among suppliers of greenhouse equipment.