Inside View: June 2013

May 17, 2013
Written by Gary Jones
It rained most of yesterday. When it wasn’t raining, it was cloudy. I remembered that as I took a barely warm shower this morning.

Even living here on the equator, free energy has its limitations. I am thankful there was enough energy to make fresh yogurt in our homemade solar oven, though.

Energy here is a serious issue. At the personal level, most people cook using charcoal or wood in an open “three-brick” stove. This means wasted energy and lots of smoke, and subsequently lots of respiratory problems in local clinics and hospitals. Foreign and national sustainability-focused NGOs are encouraging people to build their own “wood-saving ovens” as these use up to 70 per cent less wood and reduce smoke. This should help with health care and reduce another major issue of deforestation. Great idea, but ideally, one has to have access to a specific kind of anthill for the supply of the best brick material.

At a national level, all of the fuel oil for Uganda arrives by ship to the port of Mombassa (Kenya) and is trucked by road into Uganda. This comes either via the strategic town of Jinja and across the narrow Owen Falls dam or from the south via Tanzania.

Either way, Uganda is in a precarious position in terms of fuel security (there is always a very heavy police/army presence around the dam).

Oddly enough, Owen Falls dam generates huge amounts of hydroelectricity, most of which is sent south to Tanzania while rural Ugandans living directly under those power lines have no electricity at all. Those of us fortunate enough to have electricity find it’s rather “brown,” so all power outlets have to have voltage regulators to avoid burning out electrical items. I discovered this the hard way with my laptop power cord. And as for generators … well… that’s another story.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit a project in southern Kenya run by the Toronto-based organization “Free the Children.” While visiting the farm that provides food for the project’s five schools, guest camp and clinic, among the maize, beans and cabbage were a couple of crops I had to check on. One was Napier grass (a.k.a., elephant grass), being grown as fodder for the farm’s cows and goats. The other was Jatropha curcas, being grown as a trial for biofuel production (even though this is rather controversial in many discussions). Yes, biofuel … even here.

OK, that’s all very nice, but what’s that got to do with a flower greenhouse in Niagara or a tomato grower in Delta, you might say.
Well, deforestation, a bridge and reliance on a single shipping port might be concerns for fuel security in Uganda, but how much more secure are the fuel systems used for heating our greenhouses here in Canada?

Sure, there are an increasing number of operators using wood waste and miscanthus, and the occasional user of landfill gas. But most are still reliant on energy that is provided by a supplier using pipelines, power lines or road transport. Are we really in any better of a position than the people of Uganda?

I really don’t have the answers to many of the questions this issue raises. It is, however, good to see research and development work continuing into finding ways to reduce greenhouse energy use in terms of energy put in versus kilogram of produce out, and in terms of finding new sources of energy to supply those needs that are absolutely necessary.

Kudos to Houwelings for the work they are doing at their Camarillo site in California, and now in Delta, British Columbia.

It would also be great to see Chris Bush’s development of anaerobic digestion systems in the dairy belt of Abbotsford, British Columbia, progress to provide power, CO2 or other useful products (maybe organic nutrients?) to the greenhouse sector. There are lots of exciting projects to keep an eye on.

The good news, for me at least, is that today was hot and sunny. I can have a hot shower tomorrow!


Gary Jones is a faculty member in the School of Horticulture at Kwantlen University, Langley, British Columbia. He sits on several industry committees and welcomes comments at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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