Greenhouses break new ground
Visible agricultural technology spurs demand for change in Mozambique
Ângelo Miguel Cumaio’s commercial vegetable farm is not far from a major road between Matola and Maputo, the largest cities in Mozambique, so when he installed three new greenhouses in October 2018, they were instantly noticed. Ângelo is used to recognition, having won the 2018 Best Producer of Maputo city and coming in second nationally. And while he enjoyed the attention that the new greenhouses brought him, what he’s really excited about is how his production has changed. The greenhouses enable him to harvest lettuce 12 times a year instead of the seven harvests he can do in his open field, as well as reduce fertilizer and pesticide used.
The benefits of resource-smart technology
With the support of a grant from the Swedish Embassy, iDE acquired 80 tropical greenhouses from Brazil to sell to farmers, with half the cost covered by the grant. Tropical greenhouses have the potential for changing agricultural productivity in Mozambique, which has lagged behind other countries in the region and the world in production per meter cultivated. Unlike greenhouses built for northern climates, which are focused on trapping heat to enable plant growth in colder months, tropical greenhouses are used for crop protection. The heavy plastic sheeting serves as a cover that prevents damage to plants from heavy rainfall and hail, common in Mozambique’s rainy season. The enclosed area also serves as a barrier against pest infestations.
There are other benefits for growers as well. Drip irrigation is a perfect complement to this greenhouse technology, given the controlled environment and close conditions. Farmers are able to concentrate plants using trellising, growing the same amount within roughly 200 square meters that in open land would have taken a hectare. This is possible because open cultivation takes more water, uses more inputs, suffers losses from pest and plant disease as well as burning from the sun and rain damage. Ângelo estimated that he is using about 60% less fertilizer, which he feeds to the crops through the drip irrigation.
The proof is in the produce
The greenhouses enable Ângelo to increase his production by growing lettuce during the rainy months. He thinks it might even be possible to get more than 12 harvests; he’s seeing the lettuce becoming ready in as little as 20 days, compared to 30 days in the open field. What he is really excited about, however, is how much the greenhouses are improving his product. A standard head of lettuce grown in the open would weigh an average of 500g. The lettuce he’s growing in the greenhouses are averaging 900g.
While lettuce has been his major crop—he has major contracts with the Port of Maputo and the top floor restaurant of one of Maputo’s 5-star hotels—he’s exploring what else he can grow. His latest trial crop is English cucumbers, which he had never been able to grow in the open field. In his greenhouse, though, the plants were thriving and he could count as many as 20 cucumbers forming per plant.
Be the change
To fulfill all of his market demand in recent years, Ângelo organized 60 smallholder farmers nearby. To ensure they could produce the same quality as on his farm, he monitors their cultivation and supervises the harvests. He loves teaching others, and has noticed the improvement on their farms.
His business has grown from five workers when he started in 2005 to 35 today. He wants to cover half of his 12 hectares of land with greenhouses in order to help Mozambique reduce its reliance on imports from South Africa. With the help of his neighbor farmers, and access to this new technology, it’s a dream that now seems possible.
In the Infulene Valley where Ângelo’s business is based, there are hundreds of small-scale vegetable farmers producing and selling to local, informal markets every day. Recently, a national case of food poison identified the source as cabbage produced in the Infulene region, which may be due to the fact that these farmers use massive quantities of pesticides and manually irrigate with polluted water. Ângelo can be the entrepreneur to provoke systemic change by reselling affordable Super-tunnels (a smaller version of the greenhouse) with drip irrigation, which will allow hundreds of small-scale farmers to also produce during the rainy season but, more importantly, use less pesticide and reduce water contamination. iDE is working with Cervejas de Mocambique, a local beer factory, to finance a social project to spread this technology among hundreds of farmers, creating a sustainable agricultural hub centered around Ângelo.