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.