Innovation of the Week: Tunnel Farming to Boost Food Security

By Carly Chaapel

In places where severe weather and pests threaten crop yields, farmers are turning to tunnel-shaped greenhouses that improve the quality of their vegetables, decrease the need for pesticides, and promise higher yields by protecting the plants from severe wind, frost, and hail.

Tunnel farming can increase food security in regions with harsh environmental conditions (Photo Credit: Hartwood Farm)

CEDE Greenhouses manufactures greenhouses and tunnels to be implemented throughout southern Africa. Over the past 30 years, they have helped over 350 farmers start their own greenhouse businesses. Recently, CEDE partnered with Klein Karoo Seed Marketing Company to create the Africa Tunnel. Its simple design consists of plastic cloth and supporting beams, and makes it possible for new farmers to enter the business.

Greenhouses can be valuable tools for protecting plants from harsh environmental conditions while also extending the growing season. Where sunlight is lacking, the structure can optimize what light it receives by trapping the long-wave-length heat radiation that is reemitted by objects within the greenhouse walls. In arid or semi-arid regions such as Kenya, greenhouses can lower temperatures by blocking some light with shade cloths and encouraging swift ventilation. Greenhouses may also limit the amount of water that plants lose through transpiration, which can significantly improve yields where water is in short supply. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 0.2 percent of the total agricultural land is irrigated.

In addition to manufacturing the materials necessary for tunnel farming, CEDE also offers training sessions for sustainable crop production. The company teaches farmers how to sow seeds, manage plant growth, and finally market their own fruits and vegetables.

Similar greenhouses are being erected in Kenyan schoolyards to ensure the availability of fresh, locally grown foods in schools, and to teach students about food production.  The Kenya Red Cross Society and the National Oil Company have partnered to create the Greenhouses for Schools project, which has constructed greenhouses at 700 schools nationwide. Although the arid and semi-arid land is not typically suitable for farming, greenhouse technology makes food production a reality and further secures a more bountiful food supply for the schools.

The greenhouse garden at the North Eastern Province Girls Secondary School in Garissa, Kenya, for example, grows tomatoes, corn, peppers, and melons. The garden teaches students how to cultivate their own produce, supplements school lunches with healthy options, and may even provide a small income to the school through the sales of extra fruits and vegetables.

Do you think greenhouses can help boost food security and provide a sustainable means of crop production? Tell us in the comments below!

Carly Chaapel is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project.

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