The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has approved solar powered irrigation system as new way to develop agriculture.
The organisation made the disclosure in its news report made available on Sunday, April 15, 2018 in Abuja. It stated that the system was affordable and climate-friendly for both small-scale and large-scale farmers in developing countries.
FAO, however, warned on how to make the most of innovation and guard against water waste that the system needed to be adequately managed and regulated to avoid the risk of unsustainable water use.
It noted that the innovation had become imperative because the sharp and ongoing drops in price of photovoltaic panels gave new impetus to renewable energy source as a way to enhance irrigation capacity.
The report quoted Helena Semedo, the FAO Deputy Director-General, as saying: “A further price reduction could power a revolution in places such as sub-Saharan Africa, where only three per cent of cultivated area was irrigated, seven times less than global average.”
She added that the rapid expansion of more affordable solar-powered irrigation offered viable solutions that span the water-energy-food nexus, providing great opportunity for small-holders to improve their livelihoods, economic prosperity and food security.
She stated that “about 20 per cent of cultivated land across the globe is irrigated, contributing to about 40 per cent of total food output.
“Irrigation boosts agricultural productivity in various ways, as well as allows more and varied crops per year.
“Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America have relatively low deployment of irrigation on croplands, indicating sizeable potential gains there.”
Eduardo Mansur, the Director of FAO’s Land and Water Division, also said that apart from solar energy offering cheaper services, it increased the urgency of making sure that appropriate water management and governance systems were in place.
He urged leaders in sub-Saharan Africa to think strategically about how the technology could be used to encourage sustainable use of groundwater resources to avoid risks such as wasteful water-use and over-abstraction of groundwater.
Mansur said solar powered irrigation systems indicated the potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per unit of energy used for water pumping by more than 95 per cent compared to alternatives fuelled by diesel or fossil-fuel driven electricity grids.
The director urged governments to review their incentive schemes to favour “Green subsidies” over fossil fuels.
Mansur said solar irrigation pumps could also cause unsustainable groundwater extraction, as farmers expand planted areas or switch to more water-intensive crops.
He said that irrigation policy decisions should be taken after proper water accounting over larger territorial areas, as rainfall, surface water, groundwater, soil moisture and evaporation processes linked to different land uses are all part of the same hydrological cycle.
The FAO report stated that a survey of technical experts from 25 countries suggested that in three-fourths of nations’ government programmes and policies to promote small-scale irrigation, fewer than half had specific regulations limiting groundwater abstraction for such purposes.
It revealed that solar panels produced energy even at times when no irrigation was needed, opening up significant opportunities to run rice huskers, mills, water purifiers and cold storage units, all contributing to rural development and incomes.
It noted that in some cases, solar power could become “remunerative crop” if farmers were encouraged to reduce over-pumping water by opting to pool and sell their surplus energy to electricity grid.