A New Kind of Irrigation Could Boost African Farming—and It’s Powered by the Sun
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Pioneered in Israel, drip irrigation saves water and fertilizer by delivering droplets of water to the base of plants. But off-the-grid farmers aren’t able to use the technology without expensive diesel generators.
Solar power is the obvious solution. And, as SunCulture, in Nairobi, Kenya, is proving, that doesn’t have to be expensive for farmers. The startup, founded by NYU graduate Samir Ibrahim his friend Charlie Nichols, sells affordable solar-powered irrigation products and a one-stop-shop of services to farmers in Kenya.
Kenya has 5.4 million hectares of arable land, but only 17% of that is suitable for rain-fed agriculture; the rest needs to be irrigated. Petrol, electric, and manual systems are all available but are “constrained by high input costs and labor inefficiencies.”
SunCulture designs and installs irrigation tube networks and solar panels on farms (typically a three-panel 300 watt system on a one-acre lot). Then, it offers training and brings in agronomists to maximize yields. The company has set up 350 systems in Kenya, and recently put down its first system in Ethiopia. It claims to increase crop yields by as much as 300% and produce water savings of 80%, compared to other local farmers.