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Watering crops has traditionally been a massive burden on poor farmers, requiring hours of hauling buckets from the nearest water source. Solar pump technology presents an opportunity for these farmers to harness the energy of the sun and pump water to their crops. But this technology is still too expensive to impact rural poverty.

By cutting the cost by 80% small farmer incomes would be transformed, tens of thousands of jobs could be created, and carbon emissions would be significantly reduced. If solar water pump was affordable at $2-a-day, small plot agriculture could become more profitable and many farmers could be raised out of poverty in India and Africa. But, how can this feat be achieved?

Through the work of iDE and their small farm drip irrigation systems, this cost cutting has already been drastically reduced. By using thin walled, lay-flat hose to convey irrigation water from sources to rows of plants and using filters to improve water flow, reducing pressure on the system, the cost of a drip irrigation system goes from $1,200 per acre to less than $600 per acre.

The greatest challenge is the reduction of the cost of the pump motor combination from $7,000 to $2,500. Traditionally diesel powered pumps are utilized to transport water form the source, through the pump, and into the crops in unlined channels. Water is delivered to the plants by flooding the field with a loss of 60 to 70 percent of the water lost to seepage before it even gets to the plants.

By using a zero-based design, one where everything begins from scratch as if it were the invention of new technology, iDE is able to create SunWater,an  affordable PV solar irrigation system. A motor that is powered by electricity generated through photovoltaic panels would replace the diesel motors and efficiency is achieved by utilizing mirrors, which are much cheaper than photovoltaic. They are able to generate 2,000 watts off 10 – 15 mirrors. The water is then delivered to the plants via the thin walled, drip irrigation system already in place.

This simple, affordable change in the way water is delivered to plants will allow more diversification of crops by giving farmers a way to irrigate through the dry season. This means they can sell their high value crops when prices are highest (dry season) to sustain them through the wet season when farming is much more abundant and prices significantly drop. Educating farmers about how to optimize their incomes is the second phase of this valuable, life changing project.

– Shawn D. Ross

Source: Business Fights Poverty
Photo: Reeep