Building resilience with solar-powered irrigation

Building resilience in the Pangani River Basin with Solar-Powered Irrigation Systems

In Tanzania, 90% of water is consumed by agriculture, with most farmers using an inefficient open canal method and diesel-powered pumps for the irrigation of their land. These irrigation systems are harmful to the environment and the inefficient water usage puts even more pressure on already water-stressed regions such as the Pangani River Basin.

For many years, farmers in our village were suffocating due to climate change. Everyone lost hope and we felt like a candle in the wind. Agriculture was performing worse than usual because of its vulnerability to droughts. Inefficient irrigation systems and agriculture based on unpredictable rains could no longer lead to a good harvest. Not a single farmer could plan and produce with an erratic rainfall or high operation costs due to the use of fuel engines and open canal irrigation. Successful farmers could only be those who had been endowed with efficient irrigation systems and who do not depend on rainfall and rude irrigation technologies.

Santaheri Solomoni Farmer from Mbuguni (Arumeru)

Transforming farmers’ irrigation practices into sustainable and efficient systems benefits both farmers and the community at large: Water efficient irrigation systems increase a farmer’s productivity and crop production, enabling a growing export of cash crops and curbing food shortages in the community. It also makes make more water available for more economic activities and social purposes. Good water planning and management is therefore crucial to support food security, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability.

From setting up a successful pilot…

Rikolto and its partners have established an irrigation financing pilot in Moshi, Arumeru and Simanjiro, three districts dependent on water from the Pangani River Basin. The pilot involves more than 3000 smallholder farmers with a high potential to produce fruit and vegetables. It also makes the value chain more inclusive by empowering women and young people to participate in production management, record keeping and marketing and by facilitating their access to market information, inputs, and agronomic services.

Despite the farmers’ willingness to improve their irrigation practices, they had failed to adopt new technologies due to a lack of information, skills and access to technological innovation, as well as financial constraints to upgrade their irrigation systems. The pilot project coaches farmers on the use of solar powered irrigation systems and good agricultural practices to improve productivity and quality of the fruit and vegetables. Solar powered irrigation and drip kit application systems play an important role in climate change mitigation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by replacing power generation by fossil fueled engines with a renewable energy source. The pilot has therefore set up a financing mechanism to enable farmers to make the switch from open canal irrigation to efficient and sustainable solar powered irrigation and drip kit systems.

Throughout the pilot project, Simusolar continues to coach farmers on the use of solar powered irrigation systems by setting up demonstration plots, trouble shooting, developing promotional material with a strong business case and providing periodic training to the farmers groups. They have also set up an internal credit scheme which is more accessible for smallholder farmers. To further support access to finance, the Financial Sector Deepening Trust, Water Resource Group 2030 and Private Agriculture Sector Support have refined the design of irrigation financing, assist with technical know-how in finance and banking, provide credit guarantees and coach smallholder farmers on financial literacy. Local authorities are creating a supportive business environment and raise awareness on the use of efficient irrigation technologies through local authority extension officers.

… to achieving stellar results

The irrigation financing pilot has already had a huge impact on the economic and environmental resilience of the farmers and the wider community. Reduced amount of water used for irrigation, less dependency on rains and an assured water supply enabled farmers to produce based on the market trends for a certain commodity, increasing their income and improving their business.

In previous years I have been growing tomatoes on this one acre and have never been sure how much I would harvest. With the solar irrigation system, the cost has decreased, and I have more time, which allows me to follow the market calendar and increase my understanding of agribusiness processes. My better understanding has led to a decrease in the amount of crop diseases.

Santaheri Solomoni Farmer from Mbuguni (Arumeru)

Food and nutrition security increased, because farmers can make sure they have gardens to feed their families and use the increased income to buy other food such as rice and maize. In Mbuguni, farmers have stepped up production from two to four crop cycles per year. Solar powered irrigation systems also increased the food and nutrition security of communities with poor access to water. In Makiba, farmer groups were able to provide vegetables for the daily meals of the secondary school pupils after Simusolar installed a solar irrigation system in the fields around the school.

Jonge mensen worden ingezet voor de installatie van een systeem voor druppelirrigatie.

Not only farmers increased their income, but also a group of young people who were employed as temporary workers for the preparation and installation of irrigation systems. This led to a rise in youth employment and skilled youth.

My son completed his secondary school in 2017 but could unfortunately not continue studying. However, the project has helped him to get short-term job and now he supports the installation of solar systems, which allowed him to gain some valuable skills. With the earned income, he can fulfil his basic needs, like buying clothes, and contribute to the family.

Mama Jackson Sharing her son’s success story (Msitu wa Tembo)

These personal accounts show how the irrigation financing pilot has successfully increased the environmental and economic resilience of smallholder farmers and communities. The work is however not done yet. The lack of trust between farmers, service providers and financial institutions needs to be tackled when scaling up this pilot project. Despite the high return on investments in solar powered irrigation and drip kit systems, the initial investment cost stays high for farmers. Financial institutions perceive the risk too high due to unfamiliarity with technology. Only by tackling these challenges, farmers and communities can be resilient in the fight against climate change.