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March 12, 2007

World's biggest solar greenhouse opens in Kenya

The world's largest commercial project using solar panels for heating greenhouses has been launched in Kenya. Based at Bilashaka Flowers in Naivasha, the $54,000 project is a joint venture between the government of Netherlands and a Kenya-based Dutch breeder, Van Kleef Roses Ltd. The only other country with a similar but smaller project is Germany.

The project comes hot on the heels of the carbon emissions controversy. Reports have emerged that the UK could drastically reduce imports from Africa over concerns over the "food miles" and associated carbon-emitting pollution associated with long-haul aeroplane freight.

Agriculture Minister Kipruto Kirwa said the project shows that Kenya is ahead of other flower producing countries in developing environment-friendly technologies. Three years ago, Kenya became the first country in the world to develop geothermal greenhouse heating technology at Oserian Flowers. The global community is lobbying the retail chains to consider all carbon emissions from production to the point of sale, not just the distance travelled. The argument is that Europe produces more carbon than Africa, and therefore that it would be unfair to deny market access to its growers based only on the miles covered to deliver the produce.

According to Van Kleef director Judith Zuurbier, the solar panel is expected to increase production by up to 20 per cent, by creating a better growing environment as well as reducing costs incurred through kerosene heating. Also important are reduction of carbon emissions from the kerosene and the switch to an environmentally friendly, renewable energy source. Heating and lighting for greenhouses is required to prolong daylight since flowers require at least 14 hours of light per day as well as warm temperatures at night.

The Kenya Flower Council wants the industry to shift to solar energy as the main source of heating for greenhouses to help convince the world that flowers from Kenya are produced in an environmentally responsible manner. According to chairman Erastus Mureithi, the government could go into private public partnership with the council to assist the industry to switch to the technology. He gave the example of the government of Holland, which has joined hands with Van Kleef to set up the landmark solar project in the country.

The council also wants the government to support the $342 million sector in developing a "green label" for marketing its produce abroad. This is aimed at countering the impending labelling of products that have been imported using aeroplanes. "Since supermarkets in Europe intend to create awareness among consumers through the powerful tool of labelling, instead of fighting the move, we can turn the events in our favour by labelling our produce climate-friendly," Mr Mureithi said.

Kenya is currently the leading supplier of cut flowers to the EU, with a 31 per cent market share.

source : The East African

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