Affordable, High-Performance Solar Irrigation for Smallholder Farmers

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

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.


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.


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. The project also introduces a pay-as-you-go mechanism to provide farmers with flexible financing options that will further promote affordability and, therefore, demand. On average, farmers who adopt one of KickStart’s best-selling human-powered irrigation pumps increase their household income by 400% and over 1,200,000 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, empowering an additional 1,000,000 people to lift themselves out of poverty while significantly expanding smallholders’ role in water management.

KickStart has sold more than 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. Kickstart’s Product Innovation Development and Field Market teams have completed the lab and field testing of the first solar pump and PAYG system prototypes. Field testing included deployment of 21 Prototype 1 solar pumps, 10 of which were equipped with PAYG Prototype 1. Across demonstration sites and private farms, 43 adults are benefitting from the CES, 17 of whom are women. Kickstart is currently testing three payment models using their first generation PAYG system based on time passed, time-used and a hybrid model combining both options.

Building upon the lessons learned during the field and lab tests conducted, the design for their second solar pump prototype has been completed, manufacturing is underway, and the pump will be field tested in the coming fiscal year. PAYG prototypes will be ready for deployment in the coming months.

Project News: 
Dec. 17, 2018

KickStart's MoneyMaker pumps help farmers who are often barely feeding themselves to grow more crops and sell their surplus. What's next? They're planning to open an innovation hub in Kenya to develop new irrigation solutions so it can expand into 16 countries across Africa by 2021.

Sep. 12, 2018

When farmers in Uganda all plant during the rainy season, it leads to a surplus, which forces prices down. Experts like Kickstart International's John Kinaga are encouraging farmers to irrigate instead, which provides better food security, protects farmers from climate risks and reduces poverty.