The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Wednesday unveiled a toolbox to help promote solar powered irrigation across the East Africa region.
Michael Gitonga, FAO’s land and water officer for Kenya, said that the solar-powered irrigation systems (SPIS) will be used to scale up solutions for irrigation and other productive uses, such as livestock watering, homestead gardening and domestic uses.
“The toolbox will help increase arable land since land used for agriculture under rain fed is already shrinking,” Gitonga said during a meeting for irrigation experts from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Ghana and Nigeria held in Nairobi.
Gitonga observed that even though solar pumps are commonly used for drinking water supply in East Africa, there is a need to better understand the feasibility, applicability and their potential in other areas.
He said that with the reduction of water due to climate change, there is need for supplementary irrigation in food production to help feed the increasing population in the region.
“The introduction of the toolbox will play an important role in increasing food productivity per acreage and also increase production from arid and semi-arid lands into serious food producing areas,” he noted.
The FAO official said that there has been a growing interest in solar technologies in recent years because they are relatively affordable, climate friendly and adaptable to different contexts.
“Solar enables farmers to produce food when there is low rainfall and during off seasons,” he added. Gitonga noted that the new toolbox has made farming through solar irrigation interesting especially for the youths.
He revealed that the UN agency has carried out a number of relevant studies, including an assessment of water resources in Kalobeyei and Kakuma in northern Kenya looking for applicability for refugee camps and host communities.
Gitonga noted that given the plenty of sunshine and willingness of the private sector in support of solar power, the regional countries are capable of producing plenty of food both for local consumption and export.
He however noted that the new initiative requires building of capacity for users, proper financing, good water quality and quantity and hectares of land to irrigate to help make a difference.
The official said that the workshop is meant to provide participants with an overview of what is needed to make solar technologies work in different contexts – finance, design, set-up and irrigation management and how to create an enabling environment for the sustainable use of SPIS.
SPIS provides a clean alternative to fossil fuels and enables the development of low-carbon irrigated agriculture.
The toolbox was developed by FAO in collaboration with German Technical Corporation.