Greenhouses can help farmers increase their yields and improve their livelihoods while reducing spoilage and furthering food security. When used correctly, and by timing the market, greenhouses can increase annual yields tenfold while reducing water consumption by 30% to 70% compared to open-air farming. Most greenhouses sold in sub-Saharan Africa are designed for commercial farmers and are too large and expensive for smallholder farmers and small agro-enterprises. Such greenhouses are metal structures with typical dimensions of 8 m × 15 m and cost upwards of $3,000 (in East Africa) or $6,000 (in West Africa). In 2010, in response to several requests from farmer cooperatives and agricultural research institutions in East Africa, HESE students and faculty set out to design AGs that can be built by two people in two days with materials costing less than $350. These AGs are made from locally-sourced materials with the exception of the glazing (a specialized plastic that covers the structure), which needs to be imported. The target return on investment was within two crop cycles with appropriate market timing.
After field-testing approximately ten greenhouses in different climatic conditions and supply chain scenarios in Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda, the technology was licensed to a for-profit company in Kenya (Mavuuno Greenhouses) in 2012. HESE teams helped Mavuuno Greenhouses establish and streamline operations as well as establish partnerships to facilitate access to capital and agricultural extension support. Subsequently, in 2013, the technology was licensed to a social enterprise in Cameroon (Greenhouse Ventures, Ltd.) with six neighboring countries in its territory. In 2014, in collaboration with World Hope International, and with funding support from the USAID Securing Water for Food (SWFF) Program, a social enterprise called GRO Greenhouses was established in Sierra Leone, Mozambique, and Zambia. Efforts are underway to establish similar enterprises that manufacture and sell greenhouses in Cambodia, Burkina Faso, and Senegal in 2016.