So­lar ir­ri­ga­tion cuts drought risk and emis­sions for Kenyan farm­ers

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

In the scorch­ing sun, Alphonce Abok keeps an eye on his fields of wa­ter­mel­ons grow­ing near the banks of the Sound River, one of the ma­jor chan­nels feed­ing into Lake Vic­to­ria. “I hope with enough wa­ter this time around I will har­vest my wa­ter­mel­ons,” said the farmer from western Kenya. Not so long ago, he said, his ef­forts failed as he couldn’t get enough wa­ter to the crop. In July, how­ever, he pur­chased a so­lar-pow­ered ir­ri­ga­tion pump that he now hopes will give him a much more re­li­able har­vest.

The equip­ment, from Fu­ture­pump, which im­ports ir­ri­ga­tion kits from In­dia, draws en­ergy from an 80-watt so­lar panel mounted on a metal frame. The so­lar power then drives a motor that pulls wa­ter from a river, well or stor­age tank. Abok used to use a diesel ir­ri­ga­tion pump that cost nearly $10 a day in fuel to run, and of­ten drained his bud­get, as well as be­ing noisy and smoky, he said. His new $637 pump re­quired a $414 down pay­ment, with $25 a month re­pay­ments un­til it is paid off.

The price tag can make the pumps hard to af­ford for many small farm­ers, but Fu­ture­pump, based in Kisumu, has set up loan pro­grams with banks and mi­cro­fi­nance in­sti­tu­tions to help buy­ers ac­quire the equip­ment, said Charles Ahenda-Bengo, the com­pany’s gen­eral man­ager. The firm also hopes to even­tu­ally be­gin man­u­fac­tur­ing the so­lar ir­ri­ga­tion kits lo­cally, to help cut costs, Ahen­daBengo said.

Cheaper than losses

The so­lar pump was de­signed specif­i­cally for small-scale farm­ers who can’t af­ford the ir­ri­ga­tion tech­nol­ogy used by large farm­ers, but who in­creas­ingly need to ir­ri­gate their crops as rain­fall be­comes more ir­reg­u­lar, he said. So far, the com­pany has sold 200 pumps in Kenya. An­other 350 have been sold in other East African coun­tries, Ahenda-Bengo said. Rachael Opiyo, an­other farmer who bought one of the so­lar pumps with her sav­ings this year, fears the high up-front cost may keep many farm­ers from in­vest­ing in the tech­nol­ogy.

But Ahenda-Bengo said the kit, which is guar­an­teed for five years, is less ex­pen­sive if con­sid­ered over its po­ten­tial life­span - and cheaper than los­ing crops re­peat­edly. Joshua Okundi, an­other farmer who has bought a so­lar pump, said the de­vice is sav­ing time as well as cash, as the diesel pump engine lev­els don’t need to be topped up. “With the so­lar ir­ri­ga­tion pump my work is eas­ier since I don’t have to mon­i­tor it ev­ery time. I just place the kit in the farm and leave it to con­tinue pump­ing wa­ter,” he said.

Govern­ment ir­ri­ga­tion push

Pa­trick Nd­uati, the prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary for ir­ri­ga­tion in Kenya’s Min­istry of Wa­ter, said the govern­ment is not charg­ing value-added tax on such so­lar kits, and that the coun­try’s draft Na­tional Ir­ri­ga­tion Pol­icy pro­poses of­fer­ing more in­cen­tives to farm­ers to buy such de­vices, in­clud­ing lower im­port taxes. Ir­ri­ga­tion has the po­ten­tial to boost and pro­tect pro­duc­tion on many small farms, Nd­uati said. Al­ready the coun­try has about 3,600 small­holder ir­ri­ga­tion projects cov­er­ing 168,000 acres, or about 42 per­cent of the coun­try’s to­tal ir­ri­gated area. But while so­lar pumps are a wel­come ad­di­tion in Kenya, Nd­uati said, they have not al­ways worked in con­di­tions where the sun doesn’t shine. Farm­ers like Abok and Okundi be­lieve adding a recharge­able bat­tery to the kit could help solve the prob­lem. — Reuters

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