Farmers in Africa need better information to adopt solar irrigation

The use of solar energy to power groundwater pumps that farmers in drought-ridden, off-grid regions in Africa and elsewhere can employ to irrigate fields has been heralded by various experts as potentially revolutionary. Farmers using such technology agree its benefits are significant for their lives and livelihoods but insist more must be done to spread the word about the technology, how farmers can access it and funding options available to enable the installation of solar pumps.

Irrigation is limited across Africa. Globally, 20% of cropland is irrigated, but this figure falls to just 5% in Africa, shows data from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Calls to increase irrigation across the African continent are growing in an attempt to improve food security as the impacts of climate change become a daily reality, write researchers in a paper published in Communications Earth and Environment, a Nature group journal, in February 2023.

Irrigation from groundwater is a promising solution as, unlike surface water, it does not need to be treated, say the researchers from the University of Paris. Today, most rural groundwater pumping in Africa is undertaken by community hand pumps, but “installation and maintenance issues” mean the technology is not as widespread as it should be, state Simon Meunier and colleagues. “The Sustainable Development Goals call for a higher level of service, with safe water available reliably at individual households.”

Pumping systems powered by photovoltaic energy are a promising solution to improve water access in many off-grid areas without importantly increasing greenhouse gas emissions,” say the researchers. “They are already economically competitive in many contexts; technological advances have improved their longevity and local case studies have shown promising results.”