event 08 Apr 2020

Publication // Capacity development for solar-powered irrigation

This is an abstract of an article that originally appeared in Rural21 (rural21.com), an international journal for rural development. The article gives an introduction to the “Toolbox on Solar Powered Irrigation Systems”. As a climate-friendly technology, solar powered irrigation systems hold an enormous potential to increase agricultural productivity worldwide while protecting precious natural resources.

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GIZ/ Jörg Böthling

Food security is a pressing issue worldwide, and its status is expected to be critically affected by the processes of climate change. Yet there is still appreciable potential in place to increase agricultural yields – for example through irrigation. Solar-powered irrigation systems (SPIS) can play a big role in improving harvests, but proper usage involves developing expertise in several areas such as maintenance and mechanics, as well as the sustainable management of resources. Here, the “Sustainable Energy for Food – Powering Agriculture” program, run by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), finds it role by developing capacity in the application of solar-powered irrigation systems and delivering trainings in countries where SPIS is of viable interest.

When developing potential SPIS projects, there are a few critical areas to look at. Since operation of solar pumps is incurring almost no costs besides the initial investment, they can enhance negative externalities such as accelerated groundwater depletion. This might lead to a range of follow-up problems like water scarcity, desalination and conflicts over resources. Here, the government could step in and help to develop a healthy balance in water management by monitoring and addressing excessive groundwater abstraction. Another area where help is needed is the economic side of running a solar powered irrigation system. Smallholder farmers often do not have access to easily available forms of financing and lack financial literacy – here, innovative solutions to approach interested farmers and ease the process of purchasing pumps are needed.

This is where the “Toolbox on Solar Powered Irrigation Systems (SPIS)” comes into play. It was jointly developed by the GIZ and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to give advisors a training platform. The toolbox deals with elementary questions when thinking about implementing a SPIS project, offering manuals and tools in English, French and Spanish. This is accompanied by various online courses, instructions and classrooms where scholars can connect with trainers who were previously trained by the Powering Agriculture Team. To give an impression of a successful implementation of the toolbox one can look to Kenya, where a collaboration with “Women in Sustainable Energy and Entrepreneurship” (WISEe), a group dedicated to educating women about technologies in the renewable sector and related business development yielded very promising results. There, by setting up multiple Training of Trainers workshops, 29 trainers have so far been qualified in the SPIS field and can now start to spread their knowledge with institutions and organizations in the East African area.

About the journal:

Rural21 is an international journal dedicated to all topics surrounding rural development and has been in place for more than 50 years. It addresses the complete range of relevant themes – from agriculture and fisheries via capacity building and education through to health and social security, energy supply and trade. Center-stage is always devoted to inquiring into how measures and strategies can contribute to global food security and to reducing poverty.

About the authors:

  • Lucie Pia Pluschke is the East Africa Hub Manager of the GIZ project “Powering Agriculture” and is based in Kenya.
  • Janna Schneider works for the project "Powering Agriculture".
  • Maria Weitz is an agricultural economist and works as Head of the “Powering Agriculture” project, which is based in Germany, and in Kenya.


March 2020


© Rural21


Rural21: Capacity development for solar-powered irrigation

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