Solar Irrigation Solutions in Africa
Thursday, August 18, 2011
When you have to hand-deliver water to irrigate your farm, you aren’t going to have the best possible crop yields. If you have to pay for water from a nearby pump, if one exists, you’re not going to be able to get very much if your total budget is less than a dollar a day and your crop yield is still going to be pretty limited.
But if you can manage to access the underground water table using a solar-powered pump that does not cost much to run, you can ease the burden of everyday farming, but you can also start farming more land than you ever could, feed your family, and sell the abundance of extra crops at the market in town.
It’s a world of difference that villages in Africa using solar-powered drip irrigation have been able to experience first-hand. It’s about as simple as it sounds: photovoltaic pumps are engineered to deliver groundwater to plots of about an acre or a little more. Land irrigated this way tends to require significantly less water than when other methods like flooding are used, and the pumps use the clean power of the sun instead of emissions-heavy (and expensive) diesel or other liquid fuel.
For three years now, a test project in Benin has yielded unexpectedly positive results with this technology. In the first two years, three solar-powered irrigation systems produced an average of 1.9 tons of produce a month. Vegetable intake in villages equipped with these systems jumped by 500 to 750 grams, or three to five servings, per person per day–during the dry season. And we’re talking diverse, nutritious vegetables: okra, peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, carrots.
“Whereas a lot of them were consuming probably 90 percent of what they produced in their house and selling bits of extras over the year, now these women in households will keep 15 percent of what they produced and sell the rest. So the whole economics of the system changes for them,” said Jennifer Burney, the lead researcher in Benin.
Burney said that the market demand is so strong, these women sometimes don’t even need to bring their produce to the market. Customers will come calling at their homes first.