Innovative Greenhouses in india Help Farmers Adapt to Climate Change
Yadav Bhavanth grows vegetables on family land in the south-central Indian state of Telangana. On this small farm in a drought-prone region, his crop production—and income—depend heavily on seasonal rainfall.
In 2015 and 2016, water shortages threatened his crops. And when the rains came, they were often so heavy that they damaged even the hardier plants, causing disease or infestation.
Some of the extreme weather patterns can be attributed to climate change. As global temperatures increase, extended periods of drought, heat waves, and unpredictable rainfall have intensified. The crop losses and mounting debt carry a human toll: More than 3,000 farmers committed suicide in Telangana during a three-year drought. (Learn more about this problem across India)
But 2017 was different for Yadav. The 37-year-old farmer began using a greenhouse to conserve water and protect crops from harsh downpours. Instead of trapping heat, these greenhouses are made with breathable, aluminum-coated cloth netting that reflects some of the sunlight, reducing inside temperatures. The greenhouses are also fitted with drip-irrigation systems that allow farmers to use an average of 90 percent less water than their neighbors.
“Outside, we are not as sure whether the crops will dry up—there is no guarantee,” Yadav says. “Inside [the greenhouse], the plants grow very fast,” he adds. “The [produce] quantity and quality is also the best.”
Yadav purchased his greenhouse for $2,500 from Kheyti, an Indian non-profit that is developing the structures and facilitating loans to buy them—through a program aimed at helping small farms adapt to climate change.
Greenhouses have long been used in India for commercial flower and vegetable production, but standard designs are too large and expensive for farmers like Yadav. Kheyti has created several scaled-down versions that range from 258 to 553 square yards, an area that takes up just two to five percent of a typical small farm there. The size reduces the investment risk—farmers are still able to grow other crops on the rest of their land.
Kheyti’s greenhouse costs a fraction of the $30,000-plus for a conventional half-acre greenhouse. Yet because many farmers still wouldn’t be able to afford $2,500, Kheyti works with banks to get loans on the farmers' behalf, says cofounder Saumya (she doesn’t use a surname). She started the project with support from the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern University.
Kheyti recently partnered with the Bank of Baroda, India's second largest bank, to broaden the reach of the program. Participating farmers make a down payment of 30,000 rupees [$471 dollars] and then installments of 15,000 rupees [$233 dollars] after each growing season, typically every three months, until the greenhouse is paid off.
The 15 farmers who piloted the Kheyti greenhouse program have just finished their first year, growing cucumbers for three and a half months and bell peppers for eight months. Most were able to produce between five and eight times more within the greenhouse. Some used the income to advance their children’s education.
“We are able to produce inside the greenhouse [258 square yards] what we are producing outside in an acre [4,840 square yards],” said Narayana Yellabonia, one of Kheyti’s first farmers. “School has started, so the money has helped out with that.”
Inspired by the success, there are now 50 farmers growing with Kheyti in Yadav's village, Laxmapur, and in nearby Narayanpur, and the initiative has expanded into a neighboring state. Working with the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP), Kheyti will reach 1,000 low-income female farmers in Andhra Pradesh. SERP, a joint venture between the World Bank and the state government, will help Kheyti identify participants, provide loans, and fund training programs. These participants would make a down-payment of only 10,000 rupees [$154 dollars] to qualify for the loan. Kheyti launched the program with the first 50 farmers earlier this year.
Kheyti’s leaders hope to expand throughout India, but they’re taking it slow. “We are very proud of the culture we have built, but we don’t want to have that lost when we scale,” says cofounder Sathya Raghu Mokkapati.