Solar-Powered Water PumpsAs much as one-third of territory in the Northern State of Sudan can support agriculture, a key industry for Sudanese living in poverty. However, unequal access to reliable electricity and water leads many farmers to rely on diesel pumps to irrigate crops. The introduction of solar energy, specifically solar-powered irrigation, reduces farmers’ reliance on fossil fuels. This technological advancement reduces the expenses of farmers while dramatically increasing agricultural productivity.

Risks of Diesel-Powered Irrigation

Solar-powered water pumps help farmers eliminate their dependence on fossil fuel and overcome energy scarcity. An estimated 20 million people live without access to electricity in Sudan, approximately 65% of the country’s population. In the rural regions of Sudan, that percentage is even higher. For instance, up to 80% of rural Sudanese farmers lack reliable access to electricity.

Due to this scarce access to electricity, many farmers rely on diesel-powered water pumps to irrigate their fields. Diesel pumps not only produce harmful greenhouse gases but also can reduce agricultural efficiency. Specifically, the expensive and fluctuating prices of diesel fuel limit growing seasons and prevents farmers from planting consistently. Furthermore, the pumps contribute to smaller-scale environmental hazards by contaminating the surrounding water and plants.

Benefits of Solar-Powered Water Pumps

Solar-powered water pumps overcome the issue of energy scarcity by powering irrigation without tapping into fossil fuels. This mechanism helps farmers by providing a fuel source for irrigation that is both stable and effectively cost-free aside from initial installation and regular maintenance charges.

Solar-powered water pumps also help farmers increase land cultivation. Confidence in the availability of energy to irrigate crops enables farmers to increase cultivation. One pilot program for the introduction of solar pumps in the Northern State, operated by the United Nations Development Programme, found that the introduction of solar-powered water pumps increased the amount of land cultivated by farmers by 47%.

For example, the dry summer months were previously not economically viable due to the need for increased water-pumping and therefore costly diesel fuel. Following the introduction of solar-powered water pumps, land cultivation grew by 87% during the summer. Overall, farmers reported dramatic changes regarding both savings and reductions in overhead costs for farm management.

Additionally, solar-powered water pumps allow farmers to enrich agricultural production with high-value crops. Although agriculture accounts for around 80% of employment and roughly one-third of GDP in Sudan, individual farmers are particularly susceptible to poverty and food insecurity. However, with extended growing seasons and cuts in the cost of irrigation, Sudanese farmers can produce higher-value crops such as lemons, mangoes and cotton.

The Future of Solar Irrigation in Sudan

The Global Environmental Facility granted 4.89 million U.S. dollars to install 1,440 solar-powered water pumps throughout the Northern State between 2016-2021. The statistics make it clear that the farmers involved in pilot programs experienced notable benefits by utilizing solar pumps.

In addition to these individual benefits, Solar-powered irrigation could have much wider implications globally. The Sudanese initiative alone is projected to ultimately eliminate 860,100 tons of CO2 emissions and save 268,800 metric tons of diesel. Applied on a global scale, this technology could serve to drastically reduce emissions from the agricultural industry as a whole.

– Alexandra Black
Photo: U.N.

Affordable Solar Irrigation SystemWatering 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