A solar irrigation entrepreneurship project in Bihar has brought back the summer crop, reduced input costs and made agriculture in a drought-hit region sustainable.
In 2018, the Bihar government declared 206 blocks of 23 districts as ‘drought-hit’. Samastipur was one of them. “My district was declared drought affected this year but when I look at my village, I see no reason why it should be declared drought hit, “ says Yatin a farmer and a solar irrigation service provider from Chakhaji village of Samastipur district, where the International Water Management Institute set up a pilot project to empower farmers to become solar irrigation service providers by using solar pumps instead of diesel pumps. The idea was to help marginal farmers buy water at a reasonable cost and offer better irrigation services at a lower price. “ In our village, crops irrigated using these solar pumps are giving us a yield of 100kg per katha (approx 720 sq ft ), whereas farmers in other villages are not even able to recover their input costs,” he adds.
IWMI assisted six farmers acquire solar pumps by offering 60% capital cost subsidy on 5 kWp solar pumps, along with 1500 feet of buried PVC pipe distribution. The total set up cost for each irrigation service provider was Rs 2,00000. The farmers paid Rs 50,000 upfront and paid back in the rest through zero interest installments.
“With diesel pumps fuel costs were 60-70 % of our income. Now that entire cost is our saving,” says Ramnaresh Singh, another solar entrepreneur from Chakhaji village. With diesel there were also other additional costs such as that for labour, maintenance etc. Due to lack of adequate irrigation, farmers in Chakhaji also grew crops that required less water. “After getting solar pumps, we now grow maize, green vegetables and pulses, even in spring, which we could not grow earlier, ” says Sunita Devi, a farmer from Chakhaji village. This project not just brought summer crop to Chakhaji but also reduced carbon emissions by eliminating diesel, reduced irrigation cost by 60%, increased output by 48% and farmers started earning an additional income of Rs 9,000.
In India, there are around 18 million grid-connected irrigation tube-wells which account for an estimated ₹70,000 crore of power subsidies. Under the Kusum scheme, the government has proposed to provide for 17.5 lakh solar irrigation pumps. “Most NGOs and governments give our solar pumps to demonstrate technology but there is enough awareness about the technology among farmers. Solar pumps now need to be used to transform a monopolistic water market into pro-poor water market, ” says Dr. Tushar Shah, senior fellow, IWMI. According to him spattering solar pumps is not the answer, but equipping one village at a time with adequate solar pumping capacity and create solar pump entrepreneurs is. “ If we follow this route, a state like Bihar can transform its agriculture within a span of five years, “ he says.
Video by Video Volunteers Team
Article by Grace Jolliffe, a member of the VV editorial team.