The Feasibility of Rice Bags as a Low-Cost and Locally-Available Alternative to Greenhouse Glazing
Shayne Bement, Abdalla Nassar, and Khanjan Mehta
IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference
Bement, S., Nassar, A., Mehta, K., “The Feasibility of Rice Bags as a Low-Cost and Locally-Available Alternative to Greenhouse Glazing,” IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference, San Jose, CA October 2013
Greenhouses can help farmers increase their yields and improve their livelihoods while reducing spoilage and furthering food security. As farms are getting smaller and access to water is getting more difficult, greenhouses are gradually gaining popularity in the agrarian economies of sub-Saharan Africa. Most greenhouses sold in the market are designed for commercial farmers and are beyond the reach of smallholders. The Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) program at Penn State has developed and commercialized affordable greenhouses that utilize locally-sourced materials. The only exception is the glazing – the plastic covering on the greenhouse structure – which is imported from abroad. The cost of this glazing is too high, and is subject to foreign exchange fluctuations and supply chain anomalies. In an effort to further decrease the cost of the greenhouse, and thereby increase its accessibility in the market, this article investigates the feasibility of locally-available, inexpensive materials that can be used as substitutes for typical glazing materials. The primary emphasis of this paper is on rice bags, which are an abundant, inexpensive material found commonly in developing countries. Three properties of rice bag glazing were tested: light transmission, UV resistance, and water conservation. Results indicated that while rice bags are not an ideal substitute for standard glazing, they may be appropriate as low-cost shade nets. It was also found that common bubble wrap, coated with a UV-absorbent coating, may adequately replace typical glazing.