HomeRegional NewsAfricaEd's note: Offgrid but solar-empowered to irrigate agricultural activities

Ed’s note: Offgrid but solar-empowered to irrigate agricultural activities

Whether your preference is vegetables, poultry, meat, fish or fruit – water is the one element that matters the most in its production. Have you given thought to what is needed to pump water for agricultural activities?

It’s not just about having access to a water source; it is the ability to pump the water to irrigate crops, provide drinking water for farm animals and cleansing and cleaning purposes.

The World Bank Group’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) points out that most offgrid households are in rural areas and depend on agricultural activities either for sustenance or income, or both.

Even at such a small scale, the sale of produce provides an essential service toward feeding the nation.

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What does cause alarm is that according to ESMAP, 65% of land in sub-Saharan Africa is tilled, ploughed, and weeded manually. At the same time, over a quarter of the adult population in the region suffers from food insecurity.

The main reason is that many of these communities cannot power or even afford appliances to increase their yield. The need to increase yields is not necessarily about expanding the land but using the current size for optimal production.

Imagine the farming yields where everyone has access to powered irrigation, cooling, refrigeration and agro-processing.

Findings from a World Bank Group Lighting Global programme report, The Market Opportunity for Productive Use Leveraging Solar Energy (PULSE) in sub-Saharan Africa, are uplifting.

The report identifies solar water pumps as an ideal solution as these can be implemented at the largest number of farms quickly. These systems are relatively affordable compared to alternatives and can increase crop yields starting as small as 0.5 hectares.

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Considering that there are approximately 95 million rural smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, this is a huge market opportunity for small businesses to supply solar-powered water pumps and maintenance services. Still, they will need funding to get started.

The report also estimates that only about 701,000 of the 95 million meet the primary conditions to benefit from these pumps, based on farm size, lack of grid electricity, access to a water source, and adequate income.

However, this represents a $734 million market, which is projected to more than triple to 2.8 million farmers – or a $1.6 billion market – by 2030, due to expected increases in population and income rates, coupled with lower-priced PULSE appliances.

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ESMAP does warn that despite these promising numbers, solar pumps remain out of reach for an additional 4.7 million farmers whose outputs would benefit from them, but who couldn’t afford the monthly repayments of between $20-$73, even if they had access to credit. And for the 701,000 that could theoretically afford the monthly payments – credit isn’t always readily available.

To put this into perspective, in 2019 ESMAP indicated that for a water irrigation pump where the power required is 3.7 to 22.4kW, the supplier’s cost is between $200 to $1,000 with a payback period of 3 to 6 months.

With solar-powered irrigation becoming increasingly attractive as a reliable, clean-energy solution for agricultural water management, especially in areas with low elevation topography and high solar radiation incidence levels, you are likely to have questions on this topic.

For instance, what are the technical aspects to consider when planning a solar-irrigation project and what are the economics of converting to solar? A live discussion on Thursday, 25 February 2021 at 13h00 GMT will address these questions and more.

I hope you will join the panel and share your key takeaway with me after the discussion.

Until next week.

Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
As the Editor of ESI Africa, my passion is on sustainability and placing African countries on the international stage. I take a keen interest in the trends shaping the power & water utility market along with the projects and local innovations making headline news. Watch my short weekly video on our YouTube channel ESIAfricaTV and speak with me on what has your attention.