Affordable Greenhouses: Improving Livelihoods while Fostering Food Security and Sustainability

EPA Grant Number: SU835374
Title: Affordable Greenhouses: Improving Livelihoods while Fostering Food Security and Sustainability
Investigators: Mehta, Khanjan
Current Investigators: Mehta, Khanjan , Nassar, Abdalla , De Reus, Arianna , Eckard, Curtis , Gilliam, Jerrel , Bement, Shayne
Institution: Pennsylvania State University
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2012 through August 14, 2013
Project Amount: $15,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Agriculture , P3 Challenge Area - Water , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Reflecting the rising global food security challenges, over 60% of the East African population is considered malnourished with many regions in a state of famine. Greenhouses can help farmers increase their yields and improve their livelihoods while reducing spoilage and furthering food security. Our team is collaborating with diverse Kenyan and Tanzanian organizations to design, prototype, and field-test affordable greenhouses designed for small agro-enterprises and sustenance farmers. The basic hypothesis is that growing fruits and vegetables in the affordable greenhouses will help regions with cold climates and arid / semi-arid climates to grow food for their local needs while reducing cost and environmental impacts. This model of improved local food production has a longer growing season and provides steady year-round while greatly reducing water, nutrient, land and transportation energy requirements. This significantly reduced water budget for agricultural production directly results in more food, improved livelihoods and food security, while furthering sustainability. Our technological innovation is design for extreme affordability and sustainability. The greenhouses will be designed to be manufactured for less than $250 and reduce water usage by at least 30%.


The specific goal of the proposed one-year project is to complete the design, feasibility analysis and impact assessment of a pilot low-cost greenhouse. With funding support from the EPA P3 program, our team will:

  1. Develop and refine the affordable greenhouse technology in preparation for demonstration and dissemination to sustenance farmers. The focus will be on design for easy assembly and researching the feasibility of rice bags as an extremely low-cost substitute for greenhouse-grade plastic. We will study its impact on water evapotranspiration and net water and energy savings.
  2. Develop and host a series of hands-on educational workshops and resources for entrepreneurs, educators and community development professionals on affordable greenhouse construction, water budgeting and environmentally friendly food production.
  3. Lay the foundation for a greenhouse entrepreneurial eco-system that connects entrepreneurs, educators, sales agents, non-profits, industry partners, government agencies, UN agencies and other players to discuss and address relevant issues.

Expected Results:

The deliverables of this project include a greenhouse designed for extreme affordability in the east African context, a research study on low-cost greenhouse glazing substitutes and their impact on water evapotranspiration; a comprehensive business plan, engaging educational materials on a publicly accessible website, a series of workshops for entrepreneurs, and reports and presentations for the P3 competition. We envision the ultimate outcomes to be 1) reduction in the water and net energy usage of farms (and as a corollary, the ability to grow vegetables in arid and semi-arid regions) 2) enabling the cultivation of food year-round and 3) directly improving the livelihoods of farmers while fostering food security and sustainability. Systemic assessment of the project considering the diverse stakeholders will be conducted with a triple bottom line framework. Demonstration of our greenhouses will be through a series of hands-on workshops in the US and then in Kenya. Participants will be provided the necessary education so they can build their own greenhouses.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 6 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 2 journal articles for this project

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report