How an Affordable Greenhouse Can Change Lives

How an Affordable Greenhouse Can Turn $1,200 in Revenue into $120,000

For Artur Mucachua, a 47-year-old Mozambique farmer with seven children, a greenhouse changed his life. He wasn’t a farmer by training — he received his formal education in South Africa, joined the army for five years, and worked in coal mines for ten. When he decided to move back to Mozambique and start his farming operation, he had just two hectares of land.

Artur had gotten word of a new kind of greenhouse designed by World Hope International in partnership with Penn State University that was affordable, and highly effective. The Greenhouses Revolutionizing Output (GRO) Project, funded by Securing Water for Food, is designed to help farmers minimize water consumption, while maximizing crop production.

The problem for farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa is that weather fluctuation makes farming unusually challenging, even the unpredictable rainy season. However, greenhouses, which offer protection from these fluctuations, can cost upwards of $5,000 and out of price range for most smallholder farmers. The greenhouses built by World Hope are designed from local wood and a simple plastic covering that costs roughly $500 and takes just two days to construct. Access to this kind of greenhouse allows farmers to grow during multiples seasons per year, where previously they could only grow in one, highly variable season.

Artur’s farm now produces four total crop cycles per year, and his business has grown from two hectares, no employees, and $1,200 in annual revenue to 12 hectares of land, 27 full-time employees, 15 part-time employees (mostly women), and $120,000 in annual revenue.

Artur’s farm has increased its cabbage yields by 30 tons per crop cycle, which translates to an additional $7,800 in profit for each crop cycle.

Artur’s farm has increased its cabbage yields by 30 tons per crop cycle, which translates to an additional $7,800 in profit for each crop cycle. That’s not atypical for World Hope farmers who, on average, reduce growing time by 30 percent and increase crop yields 300 percent. Artur himself reduced his water consumption by 61 percent.

The greenhouses have also created a secondary business for farmers like Artur in seedling sales. Seedlings are expensive and can be difficult to grow in open air farming, where only 25-30 percent of seeds germinate. But inside a greenhouse, that rate increases to approximately 80 to 90 percent. In three weeks, Artur can grow sturdy seedlings that he can take to market to for farmers to grow in open air farms.

Artur has invested these profits from his farm both into his workers and business, providing his workers a 25 percent bonus on top of their salary. He plans to purchase six more greenhouses later this summer.

Meanwhile, World Hope is looking to expand GRO greenhouse access to women in Mozambique. Because women often have less access to capital, the ability to buy these greenhouses on a cost-recovery basis means they could repay the investment in just two to three cropping cycles before they would begin to see real profit. World Hope is partnering with Barefoot Women’s College to educate women on sustainable agricultural practices and the business skills women would need to run a successful business like Artur’s.

World Hope currently operates the GRO project as a nonprofit, but they are currently looking to adjust the business model to make it a for-profit business. The organization is field testing or pursuing field testing options in several other African countries, including Ghana, Cameroon, Madagascar, in addition to pilot testing in Peru, Vietnam, Guatemala, and Haiti, among others.