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Malawi’s Horti sector taking its first steps

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As the world of horticulture advances fast across the world, there are some places where the sector is just now taking its first steps. Malawi indeed saw its first greenhouse only 8 years ago. “Ruth Kalima, a white collar lady who used to be a banker, started her greenhouse farming business here 8 years ago,” says Celal Çelikkaya from Patrick Verster Agri Consultancy Malawi. “The operation was named Roseberry Farm, and this was the first greenhouse built in Malawi. All the produce from that operation went to the locals. On top of that, she also supplied local farmers with seeds and produce that they could grow and sell to supermarkets. However, she wanted to do more to support the community.”

Climate change and water scarcity are impacting agriculture all across the globe, and some countries have a harder time dealing with that. Malawi certainly isn’t new to the struggles of water scarcity, yet the situation is not poised to improve anytime soon. That is why Celal believes greenhouse horticulture can play a major role in food security in Malawi. “Finding water is very difficult here. Generally speaking, growers have to walk 3 to 5 km back and forth from the farm to the water source to get some irrigation,” Celal explains. “Additionally, because of soilborne pathogens, cultivation hardly goes well. The climate getting warmer makes the situation worse and doesn’t help with the said pathogens. That is why growing vegetables here can be a problem, and that’s where greenhouse horticulture comes into play.”

That’s more easily said than done because how can you set up a horticulture industry if there’s no infrastructure to jump-start that?

Celal found himself deeply involved with the Malawian community. He is the person responsible for all greenhouse manufacturing and installations. “I come from the manufacturing industry, and I’ve always done custom projects such as houses, hotels, interiors, and so on. I’ve been running factories in Turkey and in Malawi as well.” But on top of that, he has always been particularly involved in many charity activities in the country and constantly sought ways to further support the local community.

When Celal visited a greenhouse farm abroad, he felt he could contribute to bringing that to the people of Malawi. “I saw first-hand the difference between produce grown outdoors and in a greenhouse. I deeply care about the local community in Malawi, and I’ve always done my best to support them. So, Ruth and I realized that there was the necessity to bring horticulture to this country as well, and that would be able to compensate for the lack of infrastructure.”

So, Celal and Ruth took up a project commissioned by one of the most influential families in Malawi, who also wanted to help the local community with proper vegetables. “We collaborated with Dicla Horticulture from South Africa to get all the specifics of the greenhouses, as well as the seeds to grow. From Netafim, we took the drip irrigation. I took care of getting all the materials necessary and manufacturing them to build the greenhouses. On top of that, with Patrick Vester Agri Consultancy from South Africa, we could ensure everything was getting set up most efficiently and successfully.”

All of that led to the construction of a 6 mt by 12,4 mt greenhouse equipped with plastic covers, nettings, drip irrigation, and so on. “We had to come up with a system that would be able to cope with the climate, make efficient use of water, and that would also be completely off the grid.” While this project may not be considered a big deal by seasoned Horti veterans, it represents a huge step for the local community. As Celal explains, one of the main goals of this project is to expose Malawians to greenhouse technology. And from now on, it can only improve.

Other Horti projects are in line for Celal and Ruth in Malawi, but things will probably be different. “This first greenhouse was built in the southern region, where it’s easier to cope with temperature in a basic, low-tech greenhouse. But if we go to the north, temperatures are much higher there, so we’ll probably use chillers. We are currently the only company that manufactures greenhouses in Malawi. This also means that every time we make one, we are contributing to the development of horticulture in the country.”

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