According to a new study, solar-powered irrigation systems have significantly enhanced both the household incomes and the nutritional intake of villagers in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Significant fractions of sub-Saharan Africa’s population are considered food insecure,” wrote Jennifer Burney, a scholar with the Program on Food Security and the Environment and the Department of Environmental Earth System Science at Stanford. “They frequently survive on less than $1 per person per day, and … they still spend 50 to 80 percent of their income on food”
The two-year study found the pumps installed in the West African nation of Benin were a cost effective way to deliver water, especially during the dry season. Only 4-percent of the cropland in sub-Saharan Africa is irrigated, most communities rely on rain-fed agriculture.
Most communities there are food-insecure as they are limited to a three- to six-month rainy season.
“On top of potential annual caloric shortages, households face two seasonal challenges: They must stretch their stores of staples to the next harvest (or purchase additional food, often at higher prices), and access to micronutrients via home production or purchase diminishes or disappears during the dry season,” the authors wrote.
The solar-powered pumps also reduce labour as water hauling is traditionally done by women and young girls. Each system supplied an average of 1.9 metric tons of produce per month, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and other greens.
Vegetable intake across all villages increases by 150 grams per person per day during the rainy season. But those with solar-powered systems saw an increase of up to 750 grams per person per day. That’s equivalent to 5 servings of vegetables a day; a 500% increase!
Despite the higher up front cost, the solar-powered pumps turned out to be more economical than systems that run on liquid fuel. With the proper support, these systems could alleviate an important source of poverty for sub-Saharan Africa.