During the past few weeks the greenhouse team has been able to accomplish quite a bit here in Sierra Leone. In our home base of Makeni and in the many towns we’ve visited in the surrounding area, we’ve had the opportunity to interface with many greenhouse farmers, open air farmers, agronomic experts, seed distributors, market vendors, and much of the World Hope staff. Thanks to insights from all of these players, the greenhouse venture is on its way to having a more standardized process for problem solving and replication. Our major focuses during this trip have included strategies to improve farmer yields, data collection systems, standardization of business operations, analyzing gender equity within the greenhouse supply chain, understanding water savings during the dry season, and addressing agronomic problems faced by our customers. We feel confident that we’ve done our due diligence in attempting to understand each of these issues and in collaborating with our team here to address them. The next step is to ensure that all of our new protocols and procedures are implemented properly and that they are extracting the necessary information.
Our teams have been out in the field conducting interviews in 15 different towns on the topics of water savings, water conceptualization, and gender equity. Early on during the trip we were also discussing interest in the commercial sale of seedlings with our farmers.
GRO Greenhouses Operations
We also covered a lot of ground enhancing GRO Greenhouses operations. The greenhouse education tool and start-up guide were both improved and finalized since being created during the semester. Yesterday, we went with Musa to test them with a few farmers to be sure that they are intuitive and can properly prepare our farmers for the transition from outdoor farming to growing inside of a greenhouse. We also integrated our Case Management System into the OneNote application so it can be shared and accessed easily. This tool allows GRO employees to log and search all of the different difficulties that have ever been faced by any of our greenhouse customers, whether they are agronomic or not. The information in this system is inputted by GRO staff when completing the Systemic and Agronomic Problem Solving (SAPS) protocol, which contains detailed steps to carry out when any problem occurs in a greenhouse. Musa and Chris also visited 3 greenhouse sites to collect soil samples for testing so we can have a better idea of why certain crops are struggling.
In order to help our customers benefit more from their greenhouses, the seed to seedling team worked with our local carpenter, Sheku, to construct a seedling tray. Soon it will house hundreds of cups growing Mongol tomatoes allowing us to assess the market for commercial seedling sale. The seedling mechanism will also be used to test different types of crops to see which has the best value for sale at the seedling phase. Further experiments will be conducted inside and outside of the greenhouse using varying fertilizers and seeds so we have evidence to inform the advice we give to farmers.
One of the most important accomplishments of the trip was getting our data management system up and running. During the semester we created 7 different forms that capture every aspect of our business operations and interactions. These documents include farmer interaction forms, planting and watering forms, invoices, quality control checklists, and several others that have online google forms. After the information is collected the GRO staff will input it into the online system so we can track our progress and identify patterns from afar. We also outlined all of the roles and responsibilities of all our employees on the ground, analyzed our financial records, and made future projections. These procedures allow us to see whether or not we are accomplishing our goals and inform our plans going forward.
As with any growing business we still have a lot of work ahead of us, but this trip certainly allowed us to have better idea of where we are, where we’d like to be, and how to get there. We have started the process of standardizing, clarifying, improving, and digitizing all of our operations, and now we’re excited to see where things go. We’ll keep you updated as we continue working to support our current farmers and get more GRO Greenhouses into the hands of more!