Protected agriculture – cultivation of high-value vegetables and other horticultural crops in greenhouses – allows farmers to grow cash crops on small plots in marginal, water-deficient areas where traditional cropping is not viable.
This technology, originally developed and tested by ICARDA in the Arabian Peninsula, has been adapted and successfully used in poor, smallholder farming systems in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.
Protected agriculture offers many advantages:
- Large increases in yield, produce quality and revenue.
- High water productivity, saving significant amounts of water.
- Significant reduction in pesticide use – lower production costs, healthier produce.
- Year-round production, allowing farmers to take advantage of market seasonality and higher prices.
Low-cost greenhouses are fabricated locally, by small-scale entrepreneurs. Training on greenhouse fabrication, installation and maintenance is provided to farmers, technicians and entrepreneurs, and integrated crop management methods have been developed, to maximize the benefits of greenhouse cultivation.
Other innovations have also been developed to reduce the cost of highly efficient but expensive greenhouse cultivation methods such as hydroponics.
- Tomato yields increased by 192% in soilless culture compared to soil-based protected culture in UAE. Hydroponics also saved some 120 m3 of water for each ton of tomato compared to conventional soil systems.
- Cucumber yields increased by 40% in soilless closed system in Oman and reduced water use and the application of fertilizers and pesticides.
- Across the Arabian Peninsula, hydroponics with optimal crop management increased water productivity fifteen-fold, compared to traditional field production.
- Farmers have been able to recover the cost of greenhouse construction within two years.