Affordable solar-powered water pumps could be the key to farming success in Kenya

Early this year, a FAO report termed technology as a key determinant of global future food security, in a report examining the role of technology so far in food production.

The report showed that global food production has increased by a whopping 40 per cent since 2001, thanks to advanced technologies like biotechnology which gives rise to more resistant crop and animal breeds that are able to grow well in even in unfavorable climatic conditions.

The report revealed that technology advancement in the agricultural sector is mostly embraced by large scale farmers who have financial muscle to purchase those technologies hence increasing their yields. However, majority of smallholder farmers, responsible for 80 per cent of food production, in the developing world are yet to see similar gains.

These farmers, most of whom are women, either lack access to advanced tools such as modern irrigation practices, crop management products, fertilizers, post harvest loss solutions and improved seeds, or lack skills to operate them. Access to agricultural information and extension services is also still a challenge for smallholder farmers in developing world with Africa and Asia recording the lowest internet penetration rates of 27 and 38 per cent, this according to Internet World Stats.

The FAO report recommended for favorable technological policies to be adopted in the agricultural sector especially by states in developing world if smallholder farmers are to gain from the benefits of agro technology. The report showed that the high cost of technology and low skills were the main elements suppressing smallholder farmers’ ability to embrace technology.

With this revelation, companies across the globe are coming up with much simpler and affordable technological innovations to suit smallholder farmers. In Kenya for instance, Futurepump Ltd, a company specializing in solar irrigation pumps has designed cost effective portable solar irrigation kit to suit the needs of smallholder farmers who may not afford huge electronic or fuel aided irrigation pumps.

Dubbed Sunflower, the pumps have ability to pump up to 12,000 litres of water per day and come with an 80W solar panel to harvest solar energy. The package also comes with a spare parts kit and management tools.

According to the company’s Marketing and Relationships Manager Kinya Kimathi, the panel has a switch that allows the pump to run even on cloudy days as it can pump water manually as a backup when there is no sun. She explained apart from irrigation activities, the pump allows the user to charge various DC accessories from the panel hence suitable for farmers in remote areas with no access to electricity.

Besides the simplicity of this unique water pump, the company is planning to set up an affordable payment plan to help farmers meet the ultimate price of the kit estimated at Sh40,000. This is a relief for majority of smallholder farmers who have been battling with tedious and less effective irrigation techniques in the country due to high cost of irrigation pumps.