We all know that solar power offers myriad health and environmental benefits over traditional energy sources — including reduced emissions and improved air quality — but the social benefits it offers are perhaps less well known. A new paper from IRENA, launched today at InterSolar Europe in Munich, highlights the way solar technology is being used to power food production and empower communities to escape poverty.
Solar Pumping for Irrigation: Improving livelihoods and sustainability, details how solar technology is being used to improve farming efficiency and agricultural output, highlighting successful examples from across Africa and Asia.
A growing need for change
According to the United Nations, more than 40% of the world’s population makes a living in the agriculture sector — many of whom live in poverty. Socio-economic development is strongly linked to agricultural productivity, and as climate change continues to disrupt rainfall patterns, developing irrigation is becoming a vital tool to combat poverty. Given that only 5% of sub-Saharan African farmland is irrigated, and that the continent is home to one of the fastest growing populations on the planet, the need to produce more food and energy is becoming critical.
Some countries are now exploring solar-based solutions (e.g. water pumps powered by solar panels), which provide reliable, cost-effective, and environmentally sustainable energy for decentralized irrigation services. These solutions are even cost-competitive with diesel powered pumps in many cases.
For example, Solar Pumping for Irrigation highlights a case in India, where diesel-powered water pumps on salt-pan farms were replaced with solar-powered pumps. The change resulted in a life-changing 161% increase in annual monetary savings for the farmers, in addition to reduced air pollution and CO2 emissions.
Solar-pumps and other solar technologies are proven to positively affect the lives of both men and women. For example, the installation of three solar-powered drip-irrigation systems in the Kalale district of northern Benin helped a co-operative of 35-45 women free themselves from four hours of labor a day. The increased time and more reliable income from the irrigation system, helps the women to feed, educate, and provide medical care for their families.
Adopting a ‘Nexus Approach’
Water, energy, and food are intimately interlinked. Within this nexus, actions taken in any areas affects the others. In Solar Pumping for Irrigation, IRENA calls for a holistic approach with regards to policy, which recommends to:
- foster innovation and flexibility when delivering solar pumping solutions;
- take into account target groups and the long-term sustainability of markets when considering financial instruments to support solar pumping;
- focus on after-sales support and capacity building: providing support for regular operation and maintenance;
- package energy and water-efficient solutions in water-stressed areas;
- assess the direct and indirect impacts on water resources;
- monitor performance and gather data;
- consider the influence of availability and cost of energy on the choice of crops grown;
- and adopt an integrated approach to programme design: solar pumps can also bring electricity to poorly connected communities and contribute to the achievement of multiple Sustainable Development Goals.
For more information on the role of renewable energy in the water, energy, and food nexus, check out Renewable Energy in the Water, Energy, & Food Nexus.
(Header photo: IWMI/Prashanth Vishwanathan)