Study sees solar irrigation systems as »game changer« for sub-Saharan region

A study led by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria, concludes that photovoltaic irrigation systems could meet more than one-third of the water needs of smallholder farms in Africa’s sub-Saharan region. According to the study, 80 percent of agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa is provided by smallholder farmers, and 90 percent of their cultivated land is under extensive rain-fed agriculture, meaning it is dependent on unpredictable and erratic rainfall.
The study considered factors such as local irrigation needs, the size required, and the cost of water pumps, solar panels, batteries, and other components to assess the impact of solar pump adoption. »We estimate an average discounted investment requirement of USD 3 billion per year, generating potential profits of over USD 5 billion per year from increased yields to smallholder farmers, as well as significant food security and energy access co-benefits,« explains Giacomo Falchetta, lead author of the study.
Of key importance here is organization, due to the lack of financial strength of smallholder farms: »Using a business model that spreads out all initial expenses more than doubles the number of workable solar irrigation systems,« explains IIASA staff member Shonali Pachauri. On the other hand, poorly planned and organized use of solar pumps could lead to unsustainable exploitation of water sources. Factors such as reservoirs for managing water during seasonal fluctuations are therefore crucial, Pachauri says.

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