Solar Energy for Irrigation: Finding the best energy option to reduce the cost of commercial agriculture

For many countries in Africa, irrigation is touted as the answer to achieving the transformation of local agriculture from a subsistent necessity to a commercial enterprise for the serious farmer.Irrigation for many is seen as the panacea to reducing the significant risk in agricultural investments that is tied to inconsistent rainfall patterns. However if we look around northern Ghana especially, where a lot of public investments have been made in irrigation, many have failed to achieve the dreams of year round cropping to bring profits and improved economic livelihood to farmers. This has been partly due to mismanagement and underestimation of the maintenance and drainage cost of irrigation.

Irrigation using pumps, as is the case in Yagaba, is driven by energy, which has extremely high costs. Consider that when our nucleus farm in Yagaba was initiated in 2013, there was still no connection to the national grid, so we ran our irrigation equipment on diesel fuel generators. In Ghana, fuel costs have been rising consistently over the last 3-4years although world prices have significantly reduced.
For IWAD, the cost of energy for I millimetre/hectare of water pumped is about 0.35 USD$/ kWh. At these costs, a farmer cannot be competitive with his counterpart in other African countries. Most local irrigation schemes only charge a notional cost (in Ghana averages 120ghc/hectare) that is far below the real cost of water delivery. More often farmers are charged nothing, on the assumption that if they make a profit, then they can finance irrigation costs.

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USAID/PICA Project launched in Yagaba with PICA Week

In January 2016, The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and I WAD Ghana Limited, the private agricultural and irrigation development company, signed a Cooperative Agreement under which the two organisations will co-fund the Power Innovations in Commercial Agriculture (PICA) project. The goal of PICA is to enhance net incomes of the irrigated nucleus farm and 300 out-growers in the Sisili-Kulpawn basin through the provision of efficient alternative power systems.

 

Three specific objectives will be pursued to achieve this goal:

• Build infrastructure for a solar hybrid power generation system.
• Secure the provision of low cost power for irrigated farming.
• Improve productivity of smallholder out growers through application of smaller solar irrigation initiatives.

It is expected that with the generation of about 0.8MW of solar energy both IWAD’s nucleus estate and its smallholder outgrowers will have access to clean energy that significantly improves their net incomes through power cost savings up to 50%. The transfer of knowledge on modern irrigation and renewable energy is expected to enhance efficiency in energy and water use for commercial agriculture among local farmers.

The project location is Yagaba, in the Mamprugu-Moaduri district of the Northern Region of Ghana

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VISIT BY RVO official

Over the period IWAD has received persons from strategic partners including SADA to assess the project’s activities. Mr. Jan Van Saane of the National Entrepreneurial Netherlands (RVO.nl) a monitoring partner visited to assess the progress of the project and to meet farmers of the small holder association under the rain fed system otherwise known as conservation agriculture farmers. The purpose of the farmer association meeting was to hear from the farmers their experiences including success stories and challenges. Apparently all farmers testified the benefits they have derived encountering IWAD. Among the lot include; the good yields they have had from their farms as a result of receiving input loans, training, effective and best farming practices and technical assistance from IWAD’s technical officers.