On August 22nd, 2019, a group of for-profit and nonprofit organizations, facilitated by TechnoServe and supported by P4G – Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030 – announced the launch of the Smallholder Solar Pump Alliance, which will help smallholder farmers in Ethiopia purchase and use solar-powered irrigation pumps. Over the next year, the partnership will develop, pilot, and scale a sustainable, inclusive business model for green technology.
In Ethiopia, just five per cent of arable land is currently under irrigation, and the country’s reliance on rain-fed agriculture limits productivity and increases the vulnerability of farmers to droughts and the effects of climate change. The national government has set a goal of increasing the use of irrigation in the country, but the only pumping equipment available to the smallholders who cultivate most of the country’s farmland is conventional fuel pumps, which are expensive to operate and use large quantities of water.
Solar-powered irrigation pumps have been used by farmers in a number of countries, where they have proven to be less costly to operate and more water-efficient, but smallholders have been unable to access this technology in Ethiopia. There are several reasons why this innovation has not reached the country’s smallholders. First, in the absence of a viable business model for the product, companies have not imported the technology. Second, the machines are too expensive for farmers to purchase outright, and limited access to finance means that farmers would likely be unable to buy the pumps on credit. Finally, while the government is eager to promote both irrigation and the adoption of solar technology, the supporting ecosystem, such as maintenance services and spare part providers, is still weak in Ethiopia.
The Smallholder Solar Pump Alliance has been created to address these challenges and create a viable model for getting the technology into smallholder farmers’ fields. The alliance is made up of five partners, each of which provides unique capabilities:
- TechnoServe, an international nonprofit organization focused on business solutions to poverty;
- HelloSolar Technology PLC, a decentralized off-grid solar energy solutions provider committed to improving the quality of life of rural communities in developing countries by giving access to solar energy and connectivity through PAYGO instalment payments;
- GreenPath Food, a speciality food company that produces and sources premium, organic avocados, vegetables and herbs through a network of smallholder partner farms in southern Ethiopia;
- The Ethiopian Solar Energy Development Association, the business association for the Ethiopian solar industry;
- SunCulture, a Kenya-based company that develops and commercializes solar-powered water pumps and irrigation systems that enable farmers to increase yields, grow higher-value crops, expand land under cultivation, and multiply their incomes by 5x – 10x;
Working together, the alliance partners will develop a business model and financing options that allow smallholders to purchase solar irrigation pumps, as well as an after-sale support model to ensure that the equipment continues to work properly. The model will be initially piloted among approximately 100 GreenPath Food smallholder suppliers in Butajira, in southwestern Ethiopia. The partners will then use the lessons learned in the pilot to convene other industry actors to help scale the model to smallholders elsewhere in the country.
The initiative is funded through a $100,000 grant from P4G and match funding provided by alliance partners.
“Irrigation is an essential tool for improving the livelihoods and resilience of millions of smallholder farmers in Ethiopia,” said Heather Oh, TechnoServe’s deputy country director in Ethiopia and director for the project. “With the support of P4G, the Smallholder Solar Pump Alliance will create a sustainable, scalable model that empowers smallholder farmers to use appropriate, green technology to boost their productivity.”