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Why solar powered irrigation is so effective – and how we can implement it

By Practical Action On 02.09.2021 EnergyFood & agricultureWater & wasteBlog



Solar powered irrigation, a cost effective and easy-to-implement technology, is changing  the lives of thousands of smallholder farmers in Nepal’s rural areas.

The technology has not only improved agricultural production but also reduced communities’ drudgery and helped to lower seasonal migration in search of work – among many other benefits.

We spoke with our project manager Dev Datta Bhatta in Nepal to learn about the challenges to scale up solar powered irrigation, its effectiveness, and steps to install the system. He managed Building Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Capacity of Civil Society Organisations in Agriculture and Forest Sectors (BICAS) project that Practical Action implemented in rural parts of Western Nepal – a project where solar powered irrigation was a key component.

Solar powered irrigation allows for easy access to water supplies

 “It seems like a miracle to us. We never had any idea about Solar Powered Irrigation. With the regular availability of water, we are excited to expand our apple orchards.”

– Min Bahadhur Thapa, chairperson of solar pump user committee, Bajura District

5 reasons why solar powered irrigation is so effective

1. Reduces drudgery
Women are one of the groups that benefit most from solar powered irrigation. Typically, women are responsible for fetching water for drinking and other purposes – including irrigation. And it takes almost 2-3 hours to fetch water from the available sources in some of the rural areas. With the installation of solar pumps, women no longer need to walk up and down rugged terrain for hours, carrying heavy pots of water.

2. Increases production
With increased access to water for irrigation, crop production and yield both have increased. Smallholder farmers are directly benefitting as the increased production has improved their incomes as well as livelihood.

3. Diversifies livelihood options
With access to water for irrigation round the year, smallholder farmers have taken up off-season vegetable farming, orchard development and commercial crop cultivation. This has helped them diversify from their traditional food crops cultivation.

4. Helps reduce the seasonal migration of youth
In many of our project sites we have come across young people who have settled down in their hometown and engaged in local agriculture because of the improved production that results from solar powered irrigation. Previously, these youths would migrate to nearby big cities and India for at least six months a year to earn money for their families.

5. Makes people more resilient
The solar irrigation sites in Jumla, and Mugu Districts where we have installed solar powered irrigation had not groundwater sources at all. People used to walk hours to fetch a pail of water, let alone think of growing crops. Now they are engaged in growing vegetables, fruits and other food crops. This has not only improved their incomes but also enhanced their coping capacity against climate change risk and made them more resilient.

5 important steps to take before installing a solar powered irrigation system

In spite of the benefits that a solar powered irrigation system offers, we must be mindful of some crucial issues before installing the system to ensure the target communities reap the benefits:

1. Appropriate site selection
One of the most important things to consider while choosing a site for the irrigation system is to ensure there are no groundwater sources in the vicinity. Otherwise, the system will not be fully utilised by the communities. The site should also be selected in such a way that it caters to extremely climate vulnerable households.

2. Inclusive development
In many cases, the elites from the society reap the benefits from the community projects and the marginalised people are left behind. Before installing the system, we must be careful to include the most vulnerable and marginalised people in the scheme and to make the entire process inclusive.

3. Local level awareness
Making local communities and governments aware of the benefits of the technology, the subsidies offered by the government and bringing together stakeholders is essential to make them adopt the technology.

4. Viable business model
Solar powered irrigation should be a part of broader economic development plan so that it builds synergy with other agriculture commercialisation interventions and overall impact on infrastructure can be higher. Creating a viable business model around the system is a must for sustaining it. If only installed for drinking water purposes, the system is poised to fail or discontinue in the long run. However, if it is tied to diversified livelihood options like off-season vegetable farming and orchard planting, it would create a viable business model and help the system self-sustain.

5. Public/private partnership
Another important step in expanding and making the system sustainable is bringing the private sector, local institutions and communities together. Private sector and community-based institutions like cooperatives can play vital role in expanding the technology.

Notes for Editors 

Practical Action is an international development organisation that puts ingenious ideas to work so people in poverty can change their world.

Practical Action helps people find solutions to some of the world’s toughest problems. Challenges made worse by climate change and gender inequality. It works with communities to develop ingenious, lasting and locally owned solutions for agriculture, water and waste management, climate resilience and clean energy. And it shares what works with others, so answers that start small can grow big.

Practical Action consists of a UK registered charity with community projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America, an independent publishing company and a technical consulting service. It combines these specialisms to multiply its impact and help shape a world that works better for everyone.