Powering Agriculture Graduate Focus: The Earth Institute at Columbia University

Published: Oct. 25, 2016

By Powering Agriculture

About Powering Agriculture

Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development supports the development and deployment of clean energy innovations that increase agriculture productivity and stimulate low carbon economic growth in the agriculture sector of developing countries to help end extreme poverty and extreme hunger.

The Earth Institute planned to use its Powering Agriculture funding to create a smart-metered, micro-solar utility model to provide electricity for pumping to farmers currently using diesel-powered pumps in northern Senegal.

Traditional water collection; irrigation lines; farmer checking solar PV panels; irrigated field

L to R: Traditional water collection; irrigation lines; farmer checking solar PV panels; irrigated field. Photos: Earth Institute at Columbia University

By the end of the Powering Agriculture Award in March 2016, the Earth Institute team, with the assistance of their local partner, Millennium Promise, had installed three shared battery-less solar PV pumping systems. All three systems are operating at maximum utilization, serving 21 farmers in the village of Potou, Senegal. The installations maximize the land farmers irrigate, allowing even those farmers with small land holdings and/or little access to capital to benefit from irrigation. The farmers have earned between $1,500 and $2,000 per season from their harvest, as they are now growing higher value crops. By eliminating the use of gas pumps, each farmer avoided the emission of approximately one quarter ton of carbon dioxide per season, as well as saving the time and money needed to purchase gasoline. As part of the project implementation, three dozen people have been trained to use the clean energy solution. Access to pay-as-you-go irrigation in this part of coastal Senegal has shown farmers how they could potentially grow two crops in a year and generate an annual revenue of as much as $5,000 per hectare. The Earth Institute is now seeking partnerships for scaling up, adoption and local maintenance contracts.

Related News & Events: 
Sep. 7, 2016

The Earth Institute at Columbia University just celebrated the first anniversary of Acacia Irrigation, their shared irrigation system in Senegal. Three systems, each serving seven farms, are up and running; all three have seen high usage since installation. Farmers are already seeing the benefits. 

Jun. 7, 2016

The Sustainable Engineering Lab at Columbia University started with a question: Could a single system provide electricity or water to multiple farmers? To find out, they set up a system comprised of three solar photovoltaic arrays to power irrigation pumps in Gabar, Senegal.

Apr. 23, 2016

Harnessing the sun’s power is once again at the forefront of energy technology as an increasingly affordable method of generating electricity. In developing regions of the world, solar is not only a clean energy solution but sometimes the sole source of power for smallholders.