Plasticulture in LMICs
Plasticulture or ‘Protected Cultivation’ is mainly seen in horticulture in China and according to the FAO the area increased from about 10,000 ha at the beginning of the 1980s to about 1.7-2.0 million ha more recently in 2002. During the same time, China has seen a 700% increase in the production of fruits and vegetables and experienced fast development in ornamental horticulture. This rapid increase in vegetable and ornamental production is attributed to the parallel and fast expansion of plasticulture. In China, plastic film use grew more than 150-fold between 1982 and 2014 in area terms, and 200-fold in tonnage terms. However, the use and disposal of plastics are associated with many concerns, including ones related to soil fertility, food safety, and the protection of wildlife.
The first plastic greenhouses were constructed in Egypt in the early 1980s and used for the cultivation of vegetable crops. As part of a national project for protected agriculture, Egypt aims to cultivate 42,000 ha using protected cultivation and has so far managed to cultivate 6300 ha via greenhouses in different areas. Low technology greenhouses are used by small-scale farmers that serve the local market, whereas medium technology greenhouses are used by large-scale farmers that serve the urban and export markets. Greenhouse covers in Egypt are currently made of net or plastic film.
Plasticulture was gradually adopted in Sri Lanka by growers of ornamental plants, vegetables and fruits from the mid-1990s. There are three types of protective covers for crop cultivation, namely poly tunnels, net houses and rain shelters. The increasing influx of tourists after the end of the conflict in 2009 has also led to increased demand for exotic vegetables, encouraging farmers to take an interest in the cultivation of vegetables under protective covers. Since 2010, the government promoted a programme called ‘Divi neguma’, under which subsidies were given to farmers who were interested in initiating cultivation in tunnels.
Vietnam uses plasticulture, such as greenhouse and net-house models, to produce fresh vegetables and high-tech flowers, mostly in the Lam Dong province, especially in Dalat, which is considered the main vegetable and flower production area of the country. The area under plasticulture is about 11,000 ha, accounting for 0.1% of the land area for agricultural production. The area has been growing rapidly in recent years, with strong development in Lam Dong, Ha Noi, Vinh Phuc, Ho Chi Minh City and Binh Duong.
Protected cultivation is a new technique in India and is used in the cultivation of vegetables and high-value horticultural crops. The technique was initiated through an Indo-Israel project at the New Delhi-based Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in 1998. By the end of the 20th century, the area under protected cultivation was about 110 ha in India, and this increased by 10% in 2012. States that have continuously expanded the area under protected farming are Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Haryana. However, plasticulture is still underutilised in the agriculture sector with 1% of vis-à-vis 7% in developed countries. Furthermore, the majority of plasticulture business opportunities are subsidy driven.