Last summer, two teams of students traveled to Zambia to pilot our affordable greenhouse venture. Five greenhouse structures were built in the towns of Choma, Zimba, Siachitema, Jembo, and outside the limits of the capital of Lusaka. These greenhouses are being operated by a range of different organizational structures – an entrepreneur, a women’s cooperative, a church, and health clinics. These greenhouses will provide these areas with year-long growing periods in order to healthier and more accessible food for the surrounding areas. Each trip of students spent three weeks in these various towns constructing these greenhouses to standardize the construction process, explore alternative glazing options, as well as research various other independent projects including designing a water savings study, collecting local Zambian perspectives on various products, and recording indigenous knowledge about local diet and food preparation.
Since the summer, all of the teams that are operating these greenhouses have been educated in how to go about farming in a greenhouse. All the greenhouses have begun planting except the one in Jembo, however, their yields have been less than we have typically seen and expected. The Choma group had the most best looking tomato plants, but the plants lost their flowers twice at the point of fruiting. Zimba and Siachitema have had similar challenges where the plants grew very well, but there was no resulting production of fruit. At the Lusaka project, our entrepreneur, Lumba, planted some seedlings for sale and it ended up being more profitable than raising tomato plants to production.
Hopefully, all of these difficulties can be solved through their customer-support tool our students are currently designing this semester. This tool will act as a start-up guide walking farmers through the steps of preparation, planting, nurturing, harvesting, and post-harvesting. However, it is obvious that continued technical support will need to be provided to these groups before this support tool is ready to launch. Though all of these groups received some initial education when the greenhouses were first constructed, frequent and repeated education may be needed to reinforce the knowledge surrounding greenhouses – a technology these areas have been previously unexposed to. Though the results of these greenhouses so far do not seem overwhelmingly positive, we are confident that these problems can be addressed and are hopeful for the crop yields in the future.