A couple of years ago my parents decided to start their very own vegetable garden –a long-time dream. Growing tomatoes, cucumbers, and cauliflower prooved to be more challenging than expected. Except the salad, which consequently is served for dinner for four summer months straight. Tomato diseases and bad weather cause some disappointment every now and then, yet never did it mean there was no food on the table. In the end, my mom still brings plenty of fresh produce from the supermarket every week.

One of the farmers that participates in Kheyti’s first pilot of the greenhouse. Apparently, it works. (photo: Kheyti)

In many countries around the world, the situation is quite different. In India for example, more than half of the people depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Farming is always a tough profession, yet in this part of the world, extreme floods and droughts make it very hard to be profitable. One year the seeds are washed away, the other a pest destroys the yields. The sad result: in bad years, more than 20 farmers per day commit suicide in India.

Climate change is, you all know that by now, set to increase the likelihood of extreme weather events and their intensity. Rising average temperatures are already contributing to the faster spread of pests as well. To take-away the risk to lose the yield to things beyond one’s control, non-profit startup Kheyti developed a cheap greenhouse for small farmers –the ‘greenhouse-in-a-box’.

Consisting of a frame that can withstand wind speeds up to 120 kilometres per hour, it has a layer on top which partially reflects sunlight to keep the temperature moderate in summer and to reduce evaporation by the plants. At the sides, nets keep out insects that would damage the crops. Along with the greenhouse, a drip irrigation system guarantees increased crop yield with about 10% of the normal water consumption.

The solution is pretty simple and rudimentary, no high-tech involved here. But that’s exactly what the farmers need: conventional greenhouses on the market are similar to models in developed countries, being too big and too expensive for the average farmer in rural India. The Kheyti greenhouse is small, taking up on average 2% of a farming family’s land.

The greenhouse is designed to be cheap but effective: a semi-reflective layer on top protects the crop from harsh sunlight, while the sidenets keep insects and pests out. (photo: Kheyti)

For a down payment of about 400 USD, the farmers get the greenhouse, the irrigation system, and high-quality seeds to get started. After every harvets, they pay off part of a loan until the total cost of about 2000 USD is covered. In the meantime, the farmer is already earning a stable income. Being less dependent on external factors allows generating a profit, which makes a huge difference for a small farmer. He can now send his kids to school or invest in new tools.

What I like so much about Kheyti is their holistic approach. It is really much more than just a greenhouse. It’s also a financial and educational solution. Field inspectors keep a strong tie with the farmers, follow-up on crop yields and earnings. In weekly trainings, knowledge and best practices are shared. The next step is a mobile app via which the Kheyti team hopes to give the farmers even easier access to information. It’s clear that the company takes its slogan ‘Small Farmer. Smart Farmer.’ seriously.

Having started with 15 piloting farms in 2017, the team is now scaling up to 300 in 2018  to eventually reach 1 million by 2025. To realise that ambitious goal, Kheyti will probably have to rethink its logistics and ensure its own stable revenues. For that, it hopes to be able to make a margin on the sale of the greenhouse and commissions on linked products, like seeds.

Time will tell whether they succeed, but several competitions around the world admire and recognise their drive to create grassroots change –so do I. Projects like this are always a great inspiration and show that simple solutions can sometimes have the biggest impact! People may call Elon Musk the number one sustainability entrepreneur, but for me, the real climate change heroes are people such as the Kheyti team!

A group of farmers in Sadaandanda owning a Kheyti greenhouse meet up every week to share best practices (photo: Kheyti)