Bringing affordable and renewable energy to smallholder farmers

By Mikayla Czajkowski and Angelica Gomez, Sunculture | March 31, 2022

Sub-Saharan Africa is known for having abundant arable land and vast wildlife, holding a huge proportion of the world’s natural resources. However, according to a Foresight Africa report, at 200 million hectares, sub-Saharan Africa is home to nearly half of the world’s uncultivated land. Its agricultural growth potential is grossly underutilized, resulting in the continent having one of the lowest resource wealth outputs across developing countries.

A sustainable and resilient agricultural sector is key to sub-Saharan Africa’s economic future. Farming is the primary source of food and income for Africans and provides up to 60 per cent of all jobs on the continent. This is where smallholder farmers come in; the world depends on the 570 million smallholder farming households globally to eat, and this same group of people happens to be the poorest and most food-insecure.

Climate change is making it harder and harder to grow the way that they used to. Some 97 per cent of smallholder farmers are relying on rain to meet their agricultural needs, which has proven to be both inefficient and unreliable, and will become even more unreliable as climate change continues to wreak havoc on our food systems.

Image: Sunculture

Increasing smallholder productivity is a notoriously difficult problem to solve because many smallholder families are only one bad harvest away from financial ruin. Without a stable livelihood, farmers can’t afford to invest in inputs and tools that could increase their productivity – for instance, seeds, irrigation, fertilizer, post-harvest processing and cold storage. As such they remain shut out of consumer and financial markets. African farmers need technology that delivers higher-yielding and more resilient crops.

While the solution to increasing smallholder farmer productivity is complex and diverse, solar irrigation offers a solution that simultaneously contributes to food security, climate resilience, and global poverty reduction while supporting these farmers in building economic autonomy. Providing affordable access to solar water pumps offers the highest point of leverage; getting access to a sufficient supply of water enables yield increases from both crops and livestock. And having control of water enables value-added decisions to be made (i.e. when to plant and harvest) and the ability to invest in higher value crops.

The potential for solar water pumps, however, is limited by price. While the cost of solar water pumps for one to three acres has decreased by 97 per cent in the last decade, most smallholder farmers still cannot afford them. What is clear is that the continent needs many more solar water pumps in the hands of smallholder farmers. To do this, they’ll need enabling environments in which solar water pump companies can thrive, as well as involvement from financing institutions from global foundations to local banks.

Image Sunculture

Recognizing this opportunity, Kenyan-based climate-tech company SunCulture has found a way to bring affordable and renewable energy to smallholder farmers. As the largest distributor of IoT-enabled solar water pumps and solar irrigation systems for smallholder farmers in Africa, SunCulture is championing clean energy as a solution that fosters food security, economic empowerment, and climate mitigation and adaptation.

Their solar water pumps and irrigation systems allow farmers to transition from dependence on low-value, rain-fed crops that they can harvest only when the weather cooperates, to farming high-value crops year round. With their technology, hundreds of farmers are able to access a steady supply of water for agricultural and household use, engage in precision irrigation, store energy to power lights and appliances, and receive personalized farming recommendations.

To read more about the impacts Sunculture is having on smallholder farmers, please click here


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