Solar Powered Pumps Reduce Irrigation Costs

Published: Aug. 30, 2016

At Farmers Review Africa

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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.

Water has been a critical lifeline for farmers as a day without proper irrigation can damage crop quality and yields.

There are several methods for pumping water in remote areas, such as windmills, gas/diesel pumps, and ram pumps. But most of these options are either too expensive to install, or for fuel and maintenance, or require specific site conditions to operate.

Smallholder farmers have been affected by drought for many years, something which is only going to increase with climate change. The challenge we face is that water is often in the wrong quantities or quality in the wrong place and at the wrong time!

These farmers often struggle to meet the cost demand of petrol for irrigation pumps or have to spend hours performing backbreaking manual irrigation to ensure that their crops, which for many are their livelihood, can survive and produce enough to feed them.

Small farm productivity can be doubled through making available irrigation water which does not rely on engine pumps (UN FAO), this is by decoupling volumes of irrigation water pumped from volumes of gasoline or diesel fuel consumed.

Solar water pumps are a cost-effective and dependable method for providing water in situations where water resources are spread over long distances; power lines are few or non-existent; or fuel and maintenance costs are considerable.

Solar pumps can work for most locations and are at full capacity when needed most: during warm, sunny days. In temperate regions, they can be used year-round—which can be particularly helpful for potable water, animal grazing, and other farming operations. for many sites, a solar pump is often the best option for reducing cost and labor.

Affordable Solar-Powered Pumps for Poor Farmers

Companies, such as FuturePump Ltd. solve this problem by selling robust, portable, solar pumps to those farmers in need.

A solar pump encourages smart farming practices and makes the most use of the water available in a sustainable way. The FAO states that improved water management through sustainable irrigation and small, low-lift pumps holds the key to producing enough food to alleviate food shortages.

In may places, farmers are using expensive and inefficient petrol pumps to irrigate their plots. These pumps have a high extraction rate go water, some pumping over 300 L per minute! The SF1 solar pump from FuturePump mitigates this problem with a more sustainable flowrate of around 30 L per hour in full sunshine. As the energy supply is free, the pump can be used all day at this lower rate. This allows the water source to recharge and encourages better resource management. The lower flow rater also aids efficient water application as, unlike a petrol pump, it is compatible with drip irrigation and sprinklers which are known to be twice, if not three times, more efficient at getting water to the crop than traditional flood or furrow irrigation.

Farmer with solar irrigation pump.

Kenya farmer Joshua Owuor with his Sunflower solar pump. Photo: USAID/Kenya

The SF1 solar pump has no fuel costs, is robust and requires little maintenance. It is also autonomous, allowing users to productively work on their farm whilst simultaneously irrigating. Each of these increases income, reduces monetary outgoings and increases time available to those usually irrigating. It is often women and children who undertake the task of manual irrigating and reducing this burden increases time for other domestic duties and study. Farmer, Joshua Okundi, explains that he uses the income from his farm to pay school fees for his children which can be as much as 150,000 KES (Kenyan shillings) a year.

It has widely been reported that “smallholders can feed the world” (IFAD, 2011), but only if they have access to suitable technologies and opportunities. The solar pump is a value-enabling asset; smallholder farmers who would have previously been unable to irrigate are able to become business men and women with productive farms—a solar pump can be life-changing.

Irrigation for small-scale applications

With recent reduction in the cost of PV modules, solar irrigation is fast becoming cost-effective. Solar pumps are available that can move the larger volumes of water needed for irrigation.

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