Better irrigation is desperately needed in The Sahel, so farmers can continue to produce food as dry spells get longer in a changing climate.
New business models are making solar-powered irrigation technologies more accessible to thousands of farmers. AICCRA is scaling it to reach even more.
Cover image: Gati Bogodogo from the Sikasso region of Mali tends to her crops using solar powered irrigation methods.
Mali is a landlocked country in the Sahel region of West Africa, where rainfed farming provides food and income for more than two-thirds of the population of nearly 21 million people.
Highly variable rainfall patterns, droughts, and shorter growing seasons pose major challenges to food production, nutrition, and the livelihood of smallholder farmers.
It also increases the likelihood of violent conflict, which Mali has suffered to varying degrees since early 2012.
Effective irrigation helps farmers avoid climate and weather-related shocks by supplementing rainfall during long dry spells to maintain food production.
Traditional irrigation pumps use diesel and electricity as sources of energy and require a lot of maintenance.
But the high cost of diesel and electricity—combined with often intermittent and unreliable energy services in countries like Mali—make traditional pumps an unsustainable option, let alone considering their carbon footprint.
But solar powered irrigation pumps and other technologies offer a compelling opportunity for farmers to affordably irrigate their fields.
Sadly, solar pumps don’t come cheap.
An initial investment of anywhere between USD 840 – 4,700 is often needed.
In a country where half the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day, the startup costs of solar-powered pumps are evidently out of reach for smallholder farmers.
But 'pay-as-you-go' business models are now providing solar-powered irrigation technologies to farmers.
Such business models give farmers the ability to pay for what they can affordably use as they need.
The AICCRA Mali team worked in partnership with ECOTECH to facilitate access to solar-powered irrigation systems.
This allowed farmers to pay for solar irrigation systems in installments, with each payment contributing to the total purchase price of the system.
Farmers pay in cash or via a mobile payment after selling agricultural products at each harvest.
The principle of the pay-as-you-go system is to transfer ownership to the customer over time.
When the system is fully paid, it is permanently unlocked and provides free energy. The functionality of the solar-powered system can be cut off or locked if payments are not made on time.
AICCRA Mali reached 6,255 farmers in the Sikasso and Niono communities, just over a quarter of whom were women.
"It's as simple as that: clean, reliable electricity and pay-as-you-go convenience that leads to ownership"
Mr. Siako, a Manager at ECOTECH, a company which sells solar irrigation systems.
The outcome of this project is encouraging.
Farmers who used the solar-powered irrigation pumps increased their income by USD 5,262 per hectare. It also improved ‘food consumption scores’ – that is, the frequency with which different food groups are consumed by a household during the seven days before a survey is conducted.
The use of solar-powered irrigation technologies enabled farmers to produce cash crops such as onion, tomato, cabbage, and potato during the dry season, when fields had previously been abandoned due to water scarcity.
Thanks to these additional crops, the increase in incomes means the farmers are investing more in quality seeds and fertilizers.
Gati Bogodogo, a widow in the Sikasso region of Mali, shared her personal experience with the Pay-As-You-Go business, stating that she has “now become a financially independent woman, able to provide food and pay the school fees of her six children”.
For Gati, her independence has been made possible by the income generated from off-season cultivation using solar-powered irrigation systems, which she obtained through the Pay-As-You-Go system, with the assistance of AICCRA-Mali.
"Women and young farmers interested in adopting solar-powered irrigation systems but facing financial constraints should not be concerned because the AICCRA-Mali project has instituted incentive packages to help alleviate their financial burdens."
A priority for AICCRA Mali is empowering women to adopt climate-smart agriculture innovations like solar pumps, using business models that address the bottlenecks of access to finance.
Elliott Dossou-Yovo, Leader, AICCRA Mali