Farmer Yatin Kumar and researcher Tushaar Shah show off the solar technology that is replacing diesel-powered water pumps for irrigation and household use in Bihar, India. Photo by C. De Bode/CGIAR

Solar power replacing diesel for farmers in India

A cleaner, faster, cheaper alternative for water pumps in eastern India 
Farmer Yatin Kumar and researcher Tushaar Shah show off the solar technology that is replacing diesel-powered water pumps for irrigation and household use in Bihar, India. Photo by C. De Bode/CGIAR

Yatin Kumar made the switch to solar power on his farm two years ago, and he hasn’t looked back since. The vegetable farmer from Chakhaji village in Bihar, India, says solar is a cleaner, faster and cheaper alternative to diesel, which used to power crop irrigation and household water supply in his area.

 

 
Farmers in Bihar previously relied on exhaust-spewing diesel-powered water pumps. Photo by C. De Bode/CGIAR
Farmers in Bihar previously relied on exhaust-spewing diesel-powered water pumps. Photo by C. De Bode/CGIAR
 

 

The old diesel pumps were noisy, polluting and were becoming increasingly expensive to run. A changing climate with lower rainfall had brought greater demand for water pumps, and a higher cost of fuel.

 

The growing input costs of farming – particularly the climbing cost of diesel – had forced Yatin to shift from staple crops like barley, wheat and maize to farming vegetables. It was also forcing many of his neighbors off their farms to work as laborers in the cities.

 

 
The cost of running diesel pumps was putting farmers out of business. Photo by C. De Bode/CGIAR
Yatin, like other farmers, was looking for an alternative. Photo by C. De Bode/CGIAR
 

 

But in 2016, Yatin and others in his community joined an initiative by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), a CGIAR Research Center, to trial solar-powered water pumps for irrigation and household water. The community covered 50% of the costs, with the other 50% subsidized by IWMI.

 

The initiative is part of a major expansion of solar energy infrastructure by central and state governments in India, with the aim of converting 7.5 million subsidized electric irrigation pumps to solar over the next 10 years.

 

New business models developed by IWMI are turning farmers into solar irrigation providers, with the option to pay for part of the infrastructure in installments, and to form cooperatives with other farmers to sell their surplus energy to major utilities, thereby creating an incentive to use water and energy sparingly.

 

 
Yatin shares lunch with IWMI researcher Tushaar Shah. Photo by C. De Bode/CGIAR
Yatin shares lunch with IWMI researcher Tushaar Shah. Photo by C. De Bode/CGIAR
 

 

A new solar-powered pump on Yatin’s land, connected to an underground pipeline of more than 30 kilometers, is now providing a steady water supply for his farm and household, as well those of 110 other farmers.

 

 
Solar panels collect energy to pump water for irrigation and household use. Photo by C. De Bode/CGIAR
Solar panels collect energy to pump water for irrigation and household use. Photo by C. De Bode/CGIAR
 

 

The new technology has brought irrigation costs down by 50%, and because of the guaranteed supply, has given farmers confidence to cultivate crops in all seasons, thereby doubling their incomes, Yatin says.

 

 
Yatin irrigates his crops with water delivered by solar pump. Photo by C. De Bode/CGIAR
The pumps also deliver clean water for household use. Photo by C. De Bode/CGIAR
 

 

Studies by IWMI have shown that communities like the access to water that solar power brings for multiple uses, including for crop irrigation, health and hygiene. Women in particular have been found to prefer solar, especially when the pump is located close to the home and can be accessed for more purposes with less labor.

 

In his new role as a solar irrigation service provider, Yatin has made additional income, and has used that money to invest in his child’s education, in a new tractor for his farm and to pay other expenses for his family.

 

 
Yatin shares his new knowledge of solar with women from his community. Photo by C. De Bode/CGIAR
Yatin shares his new knowledge of solar with women from his community. Photo by C. De Bode/CGIAR
 

 

Not only we can irrigate our land, but also we can use a solar pump as a tool of livelihood.Yatin Kumar - farmer

 

The experience in Bihar suggests a huge potential market for solar pumps, with the promise of profit for private companies, including small and local businesses. It has also drastically cut carbon emissions, contributing to global efforts to tackle climate change.

 

Yatin, for one, is convinced of the benefits of the technology for his farm and his family.

 

“Not only we can irrigate our land, but also we can use a solar pump as a tool of livelihood,” Yatin says. “And we can keep our environment clean.”

 

 
Donor acknowledgements

This work by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is developing and testing various approaches to solar-powered irrigation through the CGIAR Research Programs on Water, Land and Ecosystem (WLE) and Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), with support from the Tata Trusts.

This research is made possible thanks to the CGIAR Trust Fund, and other funding partners who provide invaluable support to CGIAR Research Programs through targeted projects and bilateral investments in CGIAR Research Centers. Please consult our Funders page for more details.

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