Zimbabwe. Photo: David Brazier/IWMI
PROMISE FOR SMALLHOLDERS
IN ASIA AND AFRICA
Green solar irrigation offers incentives for sustainable use
Groundwater offers the potential to boost agricultural production, improve rural incomes and strengthen smallholders’ resilience to climate shocks. However, understanding where and how to develop and use groundwater is essential for sustainable agricultural intensification, now and in the future.
In India, although the use of groundwater for irrigation has transformed agricultural production, overuse has led to groundwater depletion. Recently, solar power has been introduced as a more versatile, green alternative to electric or diesel pumps. Since this technology offers dramatic reductions in pumping costs, groundwater sustainability could be further threatened. In Gujarat, the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) helped pilot the world’s first solar cooperative, where overpumping is avoided by offering farmers the opportunity to sell back excess solar power to the grid. As soon as farmers began selling surplus power, energy use for irrigation – and groundwater use – began declining.
This pilot, with strong farmer involvement, is contributing to India’s ambitious target of establishing 100 GW of solar energy by 2022, which could be fully achieved by solarizing India’s 15 million electric pumps. The Gujarat Energy Minister has announced that the model will be replicated immediately, and its benefits will be extended to 20,000 farmers.
WATER SOURCES FOR IRRIGATED FOOD PRODUCTION WORLDWIDE
Source: Villholth et al. (2017), Nature Communications.
In Africa, WLE researchers have developed maps showing, for the first time, the potential for groundwater irrigation across the entire continent. The maps show that the practice could be expanded from the current area of just 2 million hectares (ha) to 40 million ha, much of this in the semi-arid Sahel and eastern regions, stretching from Ethiopia to Zimbabwe.