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[liberationtech] Solar-powered irrigation systems improve diet and income in rural sub-Saharan Africa, Stanford study finds

Yosem Companys ycompanys at
Sat Jan 9 14:42:06 PST 2010

Stanford Report, January 6, 2010 Solar-powered irrigation systems improve
diet and income in rural sub-Saharan Africa, Stanford study finds

Sun-powered pumps installed in remote villages in Benin provide a
cost-effective way of delivering irrigation water, particularly during the
long dry season.


Solar-powered drip irrigation systems significantly enhance household
incomes and nutritional intake of villagers in arid sub-Saharan Africa,
according to a new Stanford University <> study to
be published in the *Proceedings of the National Academy of
*(*PNAS*). The  study found that solar-powered pumps installed in remote
villages in the West African nation of Benin provide a cost-effective way of
delivering much-needed irrigation water, particularly during the long dry
season. The results are scheduled to be published the week of Jan. 4 in the
online edition of *PNAS*.

"Our case study on women's farming groups in rural Benin revealed
solar-powered drip irrigation – a clean, cost-competitive technology –
significantly improved nutrition and food security as well as household
incomes in one year," said lead author Jennifer Burney, a postdoctoral
scholar with the Program on Food Security and the
Environment<> at

"Solar-powered drip irrigation systems break seasonal rainfall dependence,
which typically limits farmers to a three- to six-month growing season, and
support the production of diversified, high-value crops in rural Africa,"
Burney added.

She and her co-authors noted that much of sub-Saharan Africa's rural
population is considered "food insecure," surviving on less than $1 per
person per day. "And whereas most are engaged in agricultural production as
their main livelihood, they still spend 50 to 80 percent of their income on
food, and are often net consumers of food," they wrote.

*Benin pilot project*

In 2007, with support from Stanford's Woods Institute for the
Burney and her colleagues partnered with the nonprofit Solar Electric Light
Fund <> (SELF) on a pilot irrigation project in rural Benin.
SELF financed and led the installation of three solar-powered drip
irrigation systems in two villages in Benin's Kalalé district. Each system
is used by a local women's agricultural group, which typically consists of
30 to 35 women who share the maintenance costs of the new irrigation
 Marshall Burke [image: A woman cleans a solar panel that powers the drip
irrigation system in a rural village in

A woman cleans a solar panel that powers the drip irrigation system in a
rural village in Benin.

"In Kalalé, 80 percent of the villagers live on less than $1.25 per day,
which is representative of a number of poor, rural communities in Africa,"
said study co-author Rosamond
director of the Program on Food Security and the
Environment<> and
a professor of environmental Earth system
science<> at

In rural Benin, women and girls traditionally are responsible for hauling
water by hand, often from very long distances. The solar-powered irrigation
systems were designed to free them from hauling water to grow vegetable
crops, particularly during the dry season.

To measure the impact of the solar-powered drip irrigation technology, the
researchers monitored the agricultural groups using the new irrigation
systems, as well as two "control" villages where women continued growing
vegetables in traditional hand-watered gardens. Household surveys were
conducted at the start of the project in November 2007 and again in November

*Nutrition and income*

The results were striking. "In just one year, we saw that photovoltaic drip
irrigation systems had important implications for food and nutrition
security, as well as household income," Burney said.

The three solar-powered irrigation systems supplied on average 1.9 metric
tons of produce per month, including such high-valued crops as tomatoes,
okra, peppers, eggplants and carrots. In villages irrigated with
solar-powered systems, vegetable intake increased to three to five servings
per day – the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Recommended Daily Allowance
for vegetables – with most of the improvement taking place during the long
dry season. In a world where 20 to 25 percent of global disease burden for
children is due to malnutrition, such improvements could have a large impact
over time, Burney said.

"Seventeen percent of project beneficiaries reported feeling less food
insecure, demonstrating a remarkable effect on both year-round and seasonal
food access," Naylor added.

As for household income, the authors found that women who used solar-powered
irrigation became strong net producers of vegetables and earned extra income
from sales, allowing them to significantly increase their purchases of
high-protein food and other staples during the dry season.
 Marshall Burke [image: The crops on this small farm in rural Benin are
watered by a solar-powered drip irrigation

The crops on this small farm in rural Benin are watered by a solar-powered
drip irrigation system.

Project benefits quickly spread to other community members, Burney said. For
example, an elementary school curriculum was developed to help village
children learn about the benefits of solar drip technology. "There was an
overwhelming sense of pride in the new system by teachers, children and
women participating in the farmer groups," she added.


Each solar-powered drip irrigation system is about 1.24 acres (0.5 hectare)
in size, costs approximately $18,000 to install and requires about $5,750 a
year to maintain, the authors said. Based on the projected earnings of the
farmers, the system should pay for itself in about 2.3 years, they
concluded. And despite higher up-front costs, the durable solar systems
should be more economical in the long run than less expensive irrigation
systems that use gasoline, diesel or kerosene pumps, with the added benefit
of being emissions free, they added.

Focusing on novel irrigation technologies for farmers could be the needed
tool for escaping poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Burney. "The
photovoltaic irrigation drip system could potentially become a 'game
changer' for agricultural development over time," she added.

"Solar-powered irrigation provides a cleaner source of energy that is less
susceptible to global price fluctuations," Naylor said. "Improved
agricultural productivity in the developing world can play a critical role
in global poverty alleviation, and productivity-enhancing technologies
provide a sense of hope for persistently poor households."

Other co-authors of the *PNAS *study are Lennart Woltering and Dov Pasternak
of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid
Tropics<> (ICRISAT)
in Niger and Marshall Burke of the Department of Agricultural and Resource
Economics <> at the University of
California-Berkeley <>.

The research was supported by an Environmental Ventures
Projects<> grant
from the Woods Institute for the Environment <> at
Stanford. The Program on Food Security and the
Environment<> is
jointly run by the Woods Institute and the Freeman Spogli Institute for
International Studies <> at Stanford.

*Ashley Dean is communications manager at the Program on Food Security and
the Environment at Stanford University.*
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