Roots Up: A multifunctional greenhouse to grow food and collect water

Level: Local
Region: Africa
Tags: Adaptation measure | Agriculture | Capacity building & knowledge transfer
Target audience: Agricultural authorities | Environmental authorities | Farmers | Local government/municipalities | National government | Regional government | Scientists | University

Based in Gondar, in northern Ethiopia, Roots Up was established to support family farming as a viable model of agriculture. Smallholder farmers in the highlands face several challenges, such as climatic hazards, low yields, food insecurity.

To meet water needs, Roots Up introduced a multifunctional greenhouse that allows farmers to grow food and collect water. The greenhouse is an affordable technology that accumulates sufficient water reserves to provide year-round irrigation.

The greenhouse serves multiple purposes to suit different climatic conditions. It is designed to efficiently capture dew, fog and rainwater, depending on the area. The low-tech greenhouse is made to serve communities who live in harsh climatic conditions and who face soil erosion and recurrent droughts.

Located in wetlands or next to the coast, the greenhouse can collect dew that forms on a plastic film when the temperature drops at night, which is then collected by gutters. The collected water can then be used for irrigation, and is also safe for drinking.

Results obtained

  • Construction of greenhouses
  • Training institute for farmers
  • Involvement of smallholder farmers in the fight against soil erosion and drought, which remains a constant threat in the Ethiopian highlands
  • Trainings on soil building, water management and greenhouse maintenance 

Success factors

  • The originality of this project was its ability to connect farmers with academics, agricultural experts and designers. Their effective teamwork fuelled innovation, which is how the idea of a greenhouse combining crop production and water harvesting could be developed. 
  • The fact that the greenhouses are easy to build and ‘low tech’ are crucial to the project’s success. One farming family can build its own greenhouse, while neighbours can help to build and maintain one for a whole community. Year-round access to water makes these communities more self-reliant. 

Indicators used

  • Number of trained farmers

The greenhouse is suitable in different regional areas with diverse climatic conditions
It is also suitable for dry areas located next to the coast. In this case, the greenhouse would be designed for dew collection.

Total costs

  • Each greenhouse costs from USD 500 to USD 500, depending on the location and the materials available. To build one greenhouse for one community would cost a total of USD 960, including the materials and training costs.


Mathilde Richelet Project manager
Bassel Jouni Architect & Designer
Tel: (+251) (0) 9 46 83 52 16 e-mail: