Solar based Irrigation System: A boon to farmers in enhancing their livelihood, resilience and adaptive capacities

“Due to availability of water, we have been able to cultivate 3-4 crops in a year.”
– Januka Ramjeli, Madhyabindu-6, Nawalparasi

“Initial cost of the Solar based irrigation is high but considering its total life span cost, we found it more cost-effective than diesel pump, hence we put our hands forward for solar installation.”
– Dil Kumari Thanet, Kawasoti-14, Nawalparasi

“We have been able to earn income from the vegetables cultivation all around.”
– Samatulya Chaudhary, Dangisharan-4, Dang

Nepalese agriculture is highly vulnerable to climate change because it is dependent on rainfall. The agriculture in the terai region of Nepal faces various climatic extremes such as heat stress, prolonged drought, reduced water availability and flood (in rainy season). The number of dry days has led to scarcity of water for the winter crops; which has ultimately led to fallow land and limited the crops especially after wheat cultivation in various parts of the country. The preparation of rice nursery is also delayed due to late monsoon. Hence, year round irrigation is essential in order to increase the intensification of cropping system and reduce climate related vulnerability of the farmers. The farmers from terai region of Nepal pump water from underground source either through electricity or diesel pump. However, both electricity and diesel pumps are expensive, with electricity being unreliable due to frequent power cuts in Nepal and diesel pumps require high effort to operate and have several negative environmental effects. 

In order to solve this issue, Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD) with support from Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) has piloted 12 solar based irrigation systems in four districts viz Mahottari, Nawalparasi, Dang and Bardiya to uplift the water either from the stream, pond, water harvesting systems or an underground tube well/borings. The solar based irrigation system is one of the climate smart technologies being introduced by LI-BIRD directly benefiting 185 households of the aforementioned districts. This has helped farmers build resilience in anticipation to the impacts of climate change. Among many activities introduced and supported by Climate Smart Village and Climate Smart Agriculture project of LI-BIRD, this system has become one of the successful interventions for increasing cropping intensity, ultimately enhancing the livelihood, resilience and adaptive capacities of the farmers.

Dil Kumari Thanet (51) of Kawasoti municipality is one of the women benefited from solar based irrigation system. After the installation of solar based irrigation system, Mrs. Thanet has started cultivating vegetables after rice season. In earlier days, it was not possible to grow vegetables as it required plenty of water and there was no water available. “We used to operate diesel based pump for rice season and since diesel was expensive costing around NPR 400 per hour, it was not used for other crops and ultimately the land used to remain fallow”, said Mrs. Thanet. Also, it was a tedious job and required high physical exertion to operate the diesel pump and the farmers needed to stay and wait as long as it was operating. “Now, it is as easy as switching on the button to irrigate the plants and even the cost has reduced drastically i.e., we pay NPR 50 per hour.” I have started cultivating and selling surplus vegetables”, said Mrs. Thanet. In the first year, she cultivated maize and pumpkin as a mixed crop. She added, “I was happy to see its production. I distributed pumpkins to my relatives as it was in higher return.” In later months, she earned five thousand rupees from selling vegetables like tomato, spinach, coriander, lady’s  finger and cowpea. Similarly, in the second year, she earned eighteen thousand rupees solely from the vegetable sales. In addition to that, due to late monsoon in those years, they were having problem in timely preparation of the rice nursery, but now, due to availability of water, it has been easy for them as they are able to prepare rice nursery on time and do not need to depend on rainfall.

Dil Kumari Thanet and Jenu Thanet (left to right) working in Climate Smart Village, Agyauli.

There are many farmers in CSV and CSA project municipalities who are very much eager to share their success stories of solar based irrigation system and thank the organization for the wonderful support. Tara Prasad Bhattarai (56) of Madhyabindu municipality is another farmer who has been benefited from this irrigation system. He has become a source of inspiration for other farmers nearby. Mr. Bhattarai shared, “There used to be dust everywhere in this area due to dryness but now after solar installation, we can see greenery all-round the year”. There has been a drastic change in the cropping pattern. “I do not have large land area to cultivate vegetables but seeing the scenario and availability of water, I have taken land in lease and started cultivating vegetables”, further added Mr. Bhattarai. In the last two years, he has been able to earn twenty five thousand rupees by selling the fresh vegetables. “In addition, it has been easy for me as I do not have to go to the markets whereby people nearby come and purchase vegetables from my field”, revealed Mr. Bhattarai.

The solar based irrigation system has been a boon to the farmers through which they have been able to increase crop production and productivity. The total cost of this system, which requires a DC current, is around NPR  9-10 lakh out of which 75 percent has been supported by the project and 25 percent has been contributed by the beneficiaries. The project team considers this as one of the successful interventions and is further looking for the pathway for scaling it up. For other infrastructures such as pipe, collection tank construction and fencing for solar, the farmers have been successful for leveraging resources from different village level and district level stakeholders such as Village Development Committee (VDC), Municipality, Rural Municipality, District Agriculture Development Office (DADO) and District Development Committee (DDC), and leveraged NPR 11 lakh 40 thousand. This irrigation system has the capacity to lift 100,000 liters of water per day provided that there is good sunshine and can be operated up to six hours continuously. With the water availability, farmers are able to establish rice nursery in time and transplant earlier, which minimizes the risk. Fallow land is now filled with winter season vegetables and are expected to fetch a good market price. It has also increased the cropping intensity by 200 percent to 300 percent. 

Mr and Mrs. Bhattarai harvesting cowpea from the field.

Prior to the introduction of solar based irrigation system, the cropping pattern of the farmers was confined to Rice-Mustard-Fallow, Maize- Mustard-Fallow, Rice-Fallow, Maize-Fallow system. But now they have switched on to high value crops. The farmers of Nawalparasi district have started growing vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, garlic, cowpea, lady’s finger, pumpkin and gourds, and earned income by selling surplus crops. They have also started cultivating vegetables in a group. The group members are able to increase their income from 35 percent to 90 percent in the first year of installation. The farmers uplifting water with diesel pump have started to use solar based irrigation thus reducing emission of the carbon and contributing to decrease of greenhouse gases emission. This has saved a total of NPR 11,930 in Nawa Jyoti Women Farmers’ Group, one of the women led farmers’ group in Agyauli village, during transplanting, in rice season, which otherwise would have been used for diesel operating.

From the preliminary judgment, it is expected to contribute to their livelihood improvement to a larger extent and provide an option to adapt to the negative impact of climate change. Because of the solar based irrigation system, the women farmers are more involved in vegetable cultivation and hence they are more empowered with knowledge on various cultivation practices and way on efficient use of water through drip irrigation. Januka Ramjeli (32), who has started cultivating vegetables after the installation of this system, has been able to earn good income from selling the surplus vegetables and also aware other women farmers about its benefits and efficient utilization. “Seeing the benefits of the solar based irrigation system, more farmers want to join our group”, shared Mrs. Ramjeli.

Solar based Irrigation system at Agyauli Village, Nawalparasi.

The solar irrigation system is very attractive alternative to diesel powered pumping and supports sustainable agriculture. It requires less operating cost, is hassle-free, good at day time usability, and supports environmental and health benefits. However, it is quite expensive for the farmers to install it by themselves. Hence, to make this irrigation system easily accessible to the farmers, there should be subsidy provision. It should be made available in an affordable cost to the farmers. The government should allocate certain programmes for its deployment and provide it in an affordable price so as to support the small household farmers.

Climate Smart Agriculture project was implemented by LI-BIRD in partnership with the CGIAR’s Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) with financial support from Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), UK. The Climate Smart Village project is the initiative of LI-BIRD being implemented in Mahottari, Nawalparasi, Dang and Bardiya districts with technical and financial support from CCAFS.