Tuesday, 6 August 2013

How does a solar water pump look like, sir?

by Nilanjan Ghose [1]

“How does a solar water pump look like, sir? How long will it take to provide water to one hector of land? Will the pump work in winter? ” These were some of the questions thrown at us during an interactive session with local farmers in the Allauli village of Khagaria district of Bihar. It took us almost seven and half-hours to reach the village from Patna because of the extremely poor road conditions and heavy rainfall.  The farmers were waiting for us at the local panchayat bhavan. The enthusiasm was evident as there were around 25 farmers waiting for us for more than two hours, some of them travelling as far as 20 kilometers. We were at the village to discuss the potentials for irrigating agricultural land through solar water pumps.
The increasing price of diesel is making it difficult for the farmers to properly irrigate their agricultural land using diesel pumps. As farmers are trying to use less water to save costs on diesel, yields and therewith potential incomes are declining. Some farmers even leave a portion of their land completely unutilized over a substantial period of the year. The farmers are searching for affordable alternatives to irrigate their agricultural lands. Their interest was evident from the questions they asked during the interactive session. Their questions were relating to the benefits and costs of the technology, sources of financing, as well as after sales services.
Farmers during the interactive session
Increasing fossil fuel prices and decreasing prices for solar modules in the global market, create an opportune moment for applying solar water pumps. A study[2] conducted by GIZ highlights that Bihar is one of the few states, which have the perfect conditions for using solar water pumps for irrigation. The most crucial barriers to a higher uptake of solar pumps still include the high upfront cost of the technology, a lack of awareness about the potential of solar pumping among farmers and banks, as well as the lack of enterprise networks to supply pumps and provide service  all over the state.
The field visit provided us with a lot of food for thought. It became clear that most farmers have little idea of how a solar water pump works and what benefits it could bring. Based on our field visit and interactions with farmers, it was evident that there is an urgent need for generating awareness about the technology amongst the farmers. Understanding the technology is the initial step to generate interest and demand for the product. A flexible financial product tuned to the scale of the expenditures currently incurred by farmers for purchasing diesel would make solar water pumps much more affordable. IGEN-RE has therefore initiated discussions with a diverse group of stakeholders such as farmers groups, local NGOs, private enterprises, rural banks and government officials to develop awareness and financing schemes for solar water pumps in Bihar.   More information will be available on the IGEN-RE Blog soon.
[1] This blog is prepared with inputs from Mr.Santosh Kumar Singh who was also a part of the field visit.
[2] Link to the study conducted by GIZ be provided soon.