Kheyti’s Greenhouse-in-a-Box helps smallholder farmers earn a climate-resilient income  

Markkus Rovito Markkus Rovito February 16, 2023

5 min read

The E4C Fellowships, sponsored by Engineering for Change, empower early-career engineers and other technical professionals worldwide to work on local and global sustainable development challenges while building professional skills and relationships. The Autodesk Foundation supports up to 30 E4C Fellows, who will commit five months to working for portfolio organizations on Design for Good, Advancing Workflows, and Impact Research projects. E4C Fellows work remotely with flexible schedules during both summer and winter cohorts. This story is part of an ongoing series profiling several Autodesk Foundation-supported E4C Fellows.  

Photo of working greenhouse
Kheyti’s low-cost Greenhouse-in-a-Box kit helps small-scale farmers earn a reliable year-round income using much less water.

Eight out of 10 farmers in the world are smallholders and are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change on harvests, according to Kheyti, a social enterprise in India and a member of the Autodesk Foundation’s Health & Resilience portfolio. Kheyti designs low-cost farming solutions and supports smallholder farmers in creating climate-resilient incomes.  

Its Greenhouse-in-a-Box kit includes seeds, fertilizer, and a drip irrigation system, as well as full-stack services such as installation and training—all at half the cost of a regular greenhouse, according to Kheyti. 

For helping smallholder Indian farmers grow a larger and more reliable yield while using less water and developing a year-round, climate-resilient income with its Greenhouse-in-a-Box, Kheyti recently won a 2022 Earthshot Prize in the Protect and Restore Nature category. Kheyti CEO and co-founder Kaushik Kappagantulu said that the Earthshot Prize will support their effort to scale up their impact from helping 1,500 farmers today to a million farmers in 10 years. 

Such goals also aligned Kheyti with the Engineering for Change E4C Fellowship program, which it has participated in for two years running. During the 2021 E4C Summer Fellowship, Kheyti conducted research into farmers’ pain points when using the Greenhouse-in-a-Box. Then Kheyti and its consultants and partners collaborated in a single cloud-synced environment using Autodesk Fusion 360, allowing them to brainstorm, design, and test iterations on the product that led to reducing cost by 10% and installation time by 50%.

Kheyti’s 2022 E4C Summer Fellowship with 2022 E4C Fellow Maël Sonna Donko—a structural engineer from Cameroon—continued the momentum with research into alternative materials and other ways to reduce the cost of the greenhouse’s foundation processes and the cost and time to install them.  

New greenhouse dimensions

As a doctoral researcher in structural engineering at LGCGM in France, who has developed some structural analysis and design calculation tools, as well as mentored youths in STEM fields, Maël was inspired by the opportunity to contribute to designing Kheyti’s affordable greenhouse structures for farmers.  

“My passion for research and sustainable development combined with structural engineering skills drive my interest in building and advocating for eco-friendly and cheap but revolutionary structures,” he says.  

Kheyti had been working with more than 1,000 smallholder farmers in six Indian states but wanted to expand its reach to 50,000 Indian farmers by 2027. To do that, it would have to address the desires of some farmers to experiment with larger greenhouses for expanded operations, as well as others’ needs for smaller greenhouses to be used for nursery purposes.  

Maël’s goal was to verify the safety of Kheyti’s conventional greenhouse structure and find the best dimensions and materials through design and optimization for both the reduced- and expanded-size greenhouse’s pipes, wires, and foundations. The Cameroonian engineer was versed in European standards for technical specifications in materials and experimental testing, so he had to overcome the challenge of working with the differing standards of India. But Maël says “it was just a matter of time to cope with that.” 

Better farming through software modeling  

Partly due to the E4C Fellowships, Kheyti has reduced the installation time for its Greenhouse-in-a-Box by producing technical training and an installation manual. But for the larger iterations of the greenhouse that Maël was working to improve, the team simplified installation further by making its components modular. To design, optimize, and structurally validate those modular components, Maël and his colleagues relied on Autodesk Revit, Robot Structural Analysis, and Fusion 360. “The software permitted us to investigate the structural fitness of the ideated modular versions of the greenhouse, yielding excellent safety factors.” 

Work being done on the Greenhouse-in-a-Box structural skeleton in Autodesk Revit.

After working on architectural modeling and structural model generation in Revit, they exported projects to Robot Structural Analysis to perform structural global analysis, design, and optimization. Those results were loaded back into Revit to generate an optimized bill of materials, which helped to reduce cost. Finally, Fusion 360 followed up Robot’s global analysis with a state-of-the-art local analysis of the critical steel-to-concrete joint. 

Autodesk Robot Structural Analysis being used to study wind pressure distribution on the shade nets of Greenhouse-in-a-Box kits.

Maël says he appreciated having a suite of software products all meant to work together with seamless operation. “Interoperability, ease of use, and the holistic nature of the software have been great assets to the efficient and timely execution of the project,” he says. 

Stress distribution results of local analysis on the joint in Fusion 360.

By opting for modular greenhouse components, and by refining the software-optimized geometries and materials for those components—such as improved anchors and foundations—Kheyti achieved its reductions in greenhouse installation time and cost. Maël says they further reduced the cost by streamlining the supply chain. All of the above improvements will be crucial as Kheyti scales operations across India, responding to diverse farmer needs and weather conditions in different regions. 

While Maël’s time with Kheyti on the E4C Fellowship is over, he’s continuing to pursue a PhD in Structural Engineering in France, experimenting with and analyzing steel concrete joints with complex load demands. He says Kheyti’s main next step for developing the Greenhouse-in-a-Box will be to perform a parametric optimization of the pipes’ cross-section geometry and dimensions.  

Learn more about the ongoing E4C winter and summer cohorts and how to apply for future projects.