Rural farmers reap the benefits of solar water pumping in Kenya

Man using solar water irrigation

The Access to Solar Water Pump Project in Laikipia county (A2SPL) accelerates access to appropriate, reliable, and affordable energy sources for local smallholder farmers in this region of Kenya.

Through a market-based approach, the project enhances local distribution and uptake of quality solar-powered water pumps (SWPs) for farming in the county. Smallholder farmers involved in the project are already reaping the benefits and sharing their stories below.

David Hunja Gikonyo

David is a commercial small-scale farmer planting maize, vegetables and bananas - he also uses irrigation on his farm. David used to irrigate using a convectional petrol-powered water pump that would cost him an average of Ksh. 1,000 a day exclusive of labour which goes for Ksh 400 per casual labourer. “This was costly for me, yet it also involved a lot of water mismanagement since I used flood irrigation with a 2.5-inch pipe’’ says David.

Through the A2SPL project, David has adopted solar water pump technology, saving him Ksh 1,400 that he used to spend on a daily basis. Additionally, the 1.25-inch piped solar water pump and the installed drip irrigation kits have enabled him to save on water consumption. The cost of converting to solar water pumping for David was about Ksh. 200,000 for the surface solar water pump, solar panel, piping, 1/8-acre drip irrigation kit and installation. Even though the initial investment was high for a smallholder farmer, David has already seen a significant reduction in production costs due to the eliminated daily fuel cost. Consequently, he has been able to save up that cash and invest it in other farm operations, which has enabled him to start expanding his farming acreage by 1.5 acres. “I plan to diversify my farming to horticultural crops which are high yielding. Specifically, I want to plant tomatoes and capsicum.” David concludes.

David Hunja tending to his vegetables at the drip kits demo plot.

David Hunja tending to his vegetables at the drip kits demo plot.

David showing his advancement from fuelled to solar water pump

David showing his advancement from fuelled to solar water pump

Peter Wambugu Kanyoni

Wambugu is a highly motivated and hardworking farmer who uses irrigation on his farm. Before the A2SPL project contacted him, he was only able to irrigate ½ acre of his farm despite him having an available source of water for irrigation. “I could not sustain the ½ acre irrigation for my tomatoes for the full season, especially last season, due to high petrol prices. I lost all my crops suffering terrible losses that I have not yet been able to recover from.” Wambugu explained.

To irrigate his land, Wambugu developed a system that was challenging to operate and risky for him. He would suspend his Honda 5.5 horsepower generator in this open 30 ft well for pumping and would have to hold it for the entire pumping period. This manual work was quite exhausting and would leave him with backache. Wambugu further explains how suspending the pump in the well used to cost him a fortune, especially when the pump would accidentally get submerged into the well, forcing him to seek mechanical help which he paid Ksh 1,500. Daily, he would spend Ksh 500 on buying petrol.

After his involvement with the A2SPL project, Wambugu got a submersible solar water pump and sealed off his open well with concrete making it more secure for his family. Additionally, he has envisioned better ways to utilise the pump by investing in storage tanks, enabling him to irrigate his entire land efficiently. He has also expanded his farming and invested more in planting vegetables and onions, which he believes have a ready market and would make him more financially stable.

Peter aligning drip lines in his demo plot.

The now sealed well in peter's farm.

Rose Karoki

Rose owns 3.5 acres of Land in Segera ward, where she farms Tea trees for perfumes through contract farming, traditional vegetables, beans, and maize. She used to irrigate her land with a conventional petrol pump, sourcing water from a 3ft deep water canal from Barguret River streams. The water supply to the canals is rationed, so she invested in three water tanks with a 3000-litre capacity each and a 30,000 litres water pan for storage.

The conventional petrol pump she had, had 5 litres of petrol capacity and would cost her 650Ksh per day to pump water. “I have never been able to fill all the three tanks and the water pan with the petrol pump in a day because of the inflated cost of petrol,”  Rose says. Further, she used flood irrigation for her crops, and this was a lot of water wastage. The rapid use of the available water resource due to the flood irrigation method, followed by weeks of no irrigation to save on petrol expenses, resulted in the inconsistent water supply to the crops. This affected her crop production; at times, her crops would die and cause her to lose her harvest completely.

Rose is using a surface solar pump and can fill her water pan and water tanks and irrigate the whole farm without spending on petrol. Consequently, she is considering cultivating indigenous vegetables to supply Nanyuki's local market. Rose’s love for herbs and the possibility of expansion is leading her to diversify her herb collection to sell to the same local market and for her consumption.

The surface water pump on Rose’s farm

The surface water pump on Rose’s farm

Drip kits set up on Rose's farm

SNV, through its energy projects, is committed to enhancing sustainable energy for all ( SEforALL) by accelerating access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all by 2030. The A2SPL project is contributing to the achievement of this goal by helping small-holder farmers in Laikipia. To further enhance its implementation and outcomes, the project collaborates with other projects in the Energy, Agriculture and Water sectors within SNV and other strategic partners.

For more information

To learn more about the A2SPL project, please visit the project page or download our new report Developing the market for solar-powered irrigation in Laikipia county below.