Affordable, High-Performance Solar Irrigation for Smallholder Farmers

Innovator (Country of Incorporation): 
United States
Collaborators: 
Angaza Design (United States)
Encap Technologies (United States)
Location Applied: 
Clean Energy Source: 
Agricultural Focus: 
Product Segment: 
Year of Award: 
Financing Status: 
Organization: 

KickStart was established in Kenya in 1991 with the mission to lift millions of people in Africa out of poverty quickly, cost-effectively and sustainably. KickStart designs, promotes, and mass-markets simple irrigation pumps that smallholder farmers buy and use to start highly profitable family enterprises. KickStart has partnered with Encap Technologies to provide motors for affordable, solar-powered irrigation pumps and with Angaza Designs to incorporate a ‘pay as you go’ (PAYG) mechanism.

Problem/Opportunity: 

In Kenya, solar-powered irrigation technology remains prohibitively expensive, far beyond the means of poor smallholder farmers. There is also limited demand due to lack of awareness of clean energy technology and the aforementioned prohibitive cost. KickStart’s clean energy solution will not only greatly reduce the cost of the irrigation hardware, but, through the introduction of a PAYG mechanism, will provide farmers with flexible financing options that will further promote affordability and, therefore, demand.

Clean Energy Solution: 

KickStart and its partners will focus on designing a clean energy solution with the farmer in mind—a high-performance yet easy to assemble, highly mobile, robust and durable unit that requires minimal maintenance. KickStart will design a foldable, flat pack solar irrigation pump that is easy for farmers to install. As Encap’s pumps are both low cost and highly efficient, they only require small solar panels. The addition of an innovative, flexible and reliable PAYG system will provide the farmer with affordable, alternative modes of payment and, by substantially de-risking the provision of credit, will attract investment from traditional lenders such as banks and microfinance institutions.

Impact: 

KickStart transforms the food and income security of smallholder farmers and broader rural communities by enabling the transition from rain-fed subsistence farming to year-round commercial irrigated agriculture with individually-owned technologies. On average, farmers who adopt one of KickStart’s best-selling human-powered irrigation pumps increase their household income by 400% and over 1,000,000 people have taken a major step out of poverty as a direct result of using these innovative tools. In 2015, KickStart launched a new strategic plan to double this impact across 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa by 2021, empowering an additional 1,000,000 people to lift themselves out of poverty while significantly expanding smallholders’ role in water management.

KickStart has sold close to 300,000 MoneyMaker brand pumps to date and the introduction of the affordable solar-powered pump and flexible financing being developed through this project will be essential to both the organization’s goal and the continent’s broader need for sustainable irrigation: Currently, about 96% of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa is entirely dependent on rain.

Progress Update: 

KickStart and its partners are conducting two parallel R&D processes on the first generation prototypes of both a low-cost solar PV irrigation pump and an optional pay-as-you-go (PAYG) financing platform.

A highly specialized and experienced design team is currently developing the first prototype of an individual solar-powered irrigation pump that will be more efficient and affordable than any product currently available in the Kenyan market. The assembled group of expert engineers combine deep knowledge on the needs of smallholders, typical characteristics of their farms and water sources, and experience building state-of-the-art motors and impellers with broad industrial applications. Their targeted design parameters for a “pack and play” pump are firmly rooted in farmers’ reality. Based on feedback from KickStart’s customers and Nairobi-based product design team, the prototype under R&D must reach a minimum suction depth where groundwater is known to be available, irrigate half an acre assuming four peak sunlight hours per day, have a total diameter that can fit down a standard 2” borehole, and sell for an affordable retail price of under $200.

To further reduce the upfront cost of solar- powered irrigation, R&D for a PAYG system to couple with KickStart’s pumps is also underway. Angaza has completed the initial hardware for the first PAYG prototype, which includes a power switch, cell phone charger offtake (USB) and keyboard that can enable farmers to pay for time used, time passed, or a combination of both. The fist generation hardware is complete, including a durable enclosure that houses the electronics, is resistant to sun, water, and dust that is fitted for easy mounting directly on the back of solar panels, and input/output connections.

Project News: 
Mar. 15, 2017

KickStart and VisionFund have created an exciting new partnership that will offer farmers in sub-Saharan Africa access to credit needed to purchase and implement irrigation systems. Over the next five years, they hope to provide 100,000 farmers—and 400,000 children—greater access to water for crops.

KickStart International's Stanford Engineering Hero
Feb. 24, 2017

KickStart International's Dr. Martin Fisher was chosen as one of Stanford University's 2016 Engineering Heroes. He accepted his award on February 7th, and delivered a talk at Stanford University entitled "Engineering a Path Out of Poverty."