A new project aims to reduce the number of diesel fueled irrigation pumps in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Solar irrigation pumps offer a more sustainable solution, but with near zero operational costs the IWMI project will also seek to address potential overuse of this valuable water resource. So-called groundwater responsive solar irrigation is a means to sustainably manage water resources in a region where roughly, 12 million pumps are electric and 10 million are diesel.
With growing concerns about climate change and carbon emissions, all countries in South Asia have made international commitments to develop clean energy sources. The International Water Management Institute (IWMI)’s new Solar Irrigation for Agricultural Resilience (SoLAR) project will support governments’ aims to reduce agricultural emissions according to their nationally determined contributions (NDCs).
At the launch of the project in Colombo, Claudia Sadoff, Director General of IWMI, said; “With the projected rapid spread of solar irrigation, IWMI researchers are particularly interested in answering the second–generation questions – the impact of solar irrigation pumps (SIPs) on groundwater and on equity and social inclusion”.
“SoLAR will turn the vicious cycle of water-energy-climate into a virtuous one, if positioned along with the right policies, institutional support, and financial guidance”, said Regional Project Lead, Aditi Mukherji, Principal Researcher at IWMI.
South Asia is the world’s largest user of groundwater for agriculture. Farmers are heavily reliant on groundwater, the only reliable source of water for irrigation. SoLAR will also examine the overdependence of groundwater which poses a threat to the long-term sustainability of the resource, as well as being a large consumer of energy. Groundwater pumping, fueled by either electricity or diesel currently accounts for up to 20% of total carbon emissions from agriculture.
SoLAR will also seek to influence policies that ensure the distribution of solar pumps to everyone, including vulnerable groups. Currently, only 10% of solar pumps are owned by resource poor farmers and less than 5% are owned by women farmers”, said Mukherji “When we conclude this project in four years, and with the changes in policies, we hope at least 30% of solar pumps will be owned by poor or less privileged farmers, and 10% will be owned by women farmers in each of the countries”.