HARARE, ZIMBABWE — When Perpetua Muziri lost her office job, she paid a local company to put up two, 120-square-meter (1,292-square-foot) greenhouses in the backyard of her suburban home.
“I heard about greenhouse farming on Facebook, and I thought of trying it out, since I was now jobless,” she says.
For the past four years, Muziri has been growing cucumbers and other vegetables and selling them to local supermarkets in Harare and Marlborough, where she lives. Each month, she makes close to 1,500 bond notes, a form of legal tender unique to Zimbabwe. The bond note was pegged at the same value as the U.S. dollar when the note was first introduced in 2016, but it quickly lost its value. By early December, 1,500 bond notes went for about $441 on the black market. Even so, Muziri says greenhouse farming is a good idea.
There’s another greenhouse down the street from her home, in her neighbor’s backyard. Marlborough is a low-density area. That means Muziri has ample space for the farming structures, she says. But that’s not the only reason more residents of Harare and surrounding areas are choosing to become greenhouse growers.
Once a method of farming only used by Zimbabwe’s commercial farmers to protect their crops from soil-borne diseases, pests, and harsh weather, greenhouse farming now brings high profits to urban dwellers, even though some do not have any prior farming experience.
Building the greenhouses provided a windfall for local construction companies, as well.
More than 70 percent of Zimbabwe’s population works in the agriculture sector, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. A large portion, however, can’t afford the resources and tools critical to production, including fertilizers, pesticides and farming equipment.
In the 90s, before Zimbabwe’s land reforms, building a greenhouse was very expensive, says Prince Kuipa of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union. White commercial farmers owned most greenhouses because they could afford to set up and manage them, he says.
“Greenhouses are now gaining ground,” Kuipa says.
Tapiwa Mugabe, a consultant with Total Farm Solutions, a local company that’s been constructing greenhouses since 2012, says that his firm’s client list is increasing.
“When we started, we could go for three months without constructing a greenhouse, but now we are looking at about five to seven greenhouses per month,” he says, adding that most of his clients live in suburban areas.
Many of Mugabe’s clients do not farm for subsistence.
“People now want supplementary income and are always on the lookout for what can give them more money,” he says.
The walls and roof of a greenhouse are made with transparent material, often glass or plastic, to allow sunlight to shine through while regulating the temperature in the structure. In addition to using transparent materials, Total Farm Solutions uses locally sourced materials to build greenhouses.
Mugabe says the company makes three types of greenhouses: one with a wooden frame and heavy-duty plastic; a hybrid greenhouse with plastic covering and a frame made of wood and steel; and a third type that has a metal frame with plastic covering. The price of a greenhouse varies by size, but the cost is lower when using wood and similar materials, he says.
“We are trying to change the mindset of people who believe greenhouses are expensive,” Mugabe says.
A 120-square-meter greenhouse with a frame of wood and steel costs $2,900. The same greenhouse, made with a metal frame, is priced at $3,380, and the third option, with a fully wooden frame, goes for $2,300 and can last for more than five years without the need for major repairs and maintenance, he says.
“Greenhouse farming is a project that people who want to get into farming should seriously consider, because, within a year or less, one will recover the money they used for putting up the infrastructure,” he says.
Muziri, who spent $2,500 on her greenhouse back in 2014, says she was able to earn it back after eight months.
Like any agricultural enterprise, greenhouse farming requires consistent attention. Modesta Ncube, who lives in Harare, ventured into greenhouse farming in 2015. She says it requires a lot of work. She carefully monitors her plants, to make sure they do not get infected by viruses. Only then is greenhouse farming profitable, she says.
Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona.