Kenyan Greens – a Staple Crop Helped by Solar Irrigation

Published Oct. 11, 2018

By Collins Oluoch for Futurepump

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.

Kale, commonly known as ‘sukuma wiki’ in Swahili, is one of the vegetables with the highest demand in Kenya. As a typical Kenyan, I cannot imagine going for a week without this delicious addition to a meal, it’s close to impossible! It is due to this high demand that most small-scale farmers continue to grow and reap big from it. Another bonus is that it is eaten all year round – this makes it a great staple on any small farm.

Dry season demand

The continuous consumption of Sukuma wiki is good for farmers, but only if you can guarantee growing it through dry seasons. If you are a farmer who can afford to irrigate then you will find the crop can fetch good prices during the dry months of the year. This is because most farmers rely on rain to plant it and guarantee growth. But when the rains are on, the increase in supply means the price per bag goes down, not good for income.

So smart farmers take advantage of the reduced supply and increased prices during drought and continue production by operating irrigation. And the best thing with this crop is that returns come quickly, it only takes at most one month from transplanting to harvest. The plants can then be harvested for another four or more months depending on how one treats them.

Two Kenyan farmers standing in an irrigated field of kale

Kales watered by solar

Futurepump has enabled farmers in Kenya to produce this crop throughout the year with solar irrigation pump technology. A solar pump provides a cheaper and less labour intensive option than either petrol or manual irrigation. This means that irrigation through the dry season can become even more profitable and opportunistic for small-scale farmers.

Futurepump customers, Michael Olalo is just one farmer who has enjoyed a bumper kale crop this year. He decided to plant one acre of kale during the drought, a bold move. He obtained a tender to supply six bags (90 kg each) weekly to a local school at 30 KES/kg ($0.03/kg) for four months of drought. A brilliant opportunity, but one he could only seize with the help of irrigation. Michael chose to replace his fuel generator with a solar pump which enabled him to meet the tender without the constant need to top up on costly fuel.

Michael is just but one example. According to our research we have found out that most farmers who use the SF pump to irrigate their kales during a drought would make a minimum of 400 KES ($4) daily from a just an eighth of an acre. Solar irrigation therefore poses a great opportunity for small-scale farmers to increase their earnings from a staple crop. With this additional income and profit the ability to diversify increases and small farms can become small businesses.

A kale plant in a puddle, next to an irrigation hose
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