Adopting solar-powered irrigation system to boost agriculture in Nigeria

All year round farming in a country like Nigeria is impossible without irrigation, but with the emergence of Solar-Powered Irrigation System, lack of power supply or inability to get fuel to power pumping machines will be a thing of the past, JOHN OBA writes.

Importance of irrigation

In a country like Nigeria with irregular rain fall, all year round farming cannot be realistic without irrigation. Irrigation will enable farmers to cultivate one crop twice or three times on the same piece of land in one year. Also, irrigation will enable farmers to be less dependent on rainfall, since insufficient, uncertain and irregular rain causes uncertainty in agriculture, ensures higher productivity and the possibility of multiple cropping is high. With irrigation, farmers have potentialities to grow crops on a year-round basis, reduce instability in output levels and make early planting possible.


High irrigation potentials

The clamour for dry season farming by the successive administration has further exposed the importance and necessity of irrigation since rainfall in Nigeria can no longer be predicted as it is irregular and limites the smallholder farmers’ ability to produce more food.

This limited rain coupled with the lack of available water sources has been one of the major cause of exorbitant prices of many farm products during the dry season, since dry season farming can be capital intensive.

With over 900 dams in Nigeria, and promises of additional dams by the federal government, Nigeria has huge potentials for irrigation, yet millions of hectares of land are not irrigated, with many dams either abandoned for years or are not utilised up to 50 per cent. Most states restrict the use of some of the dams to supplying of water to feed the masses, provide hydro-power and flood control to check environmental devastation while neglecting to use them for agricultural purposes.

The minister of agriculture and rural development, Chief Audu Ogbeh in an interview published in the 2017/2018 Nigeria Outlook, an investment and governance journal, said both ministries of Agriculture and Water Resources had constructed about 900 dams, out of which less than 10 per cent are currently been utilised.

He said, “We work together (both ministries); we do big and large dams, close to 900. But believe me, less than 10 per cent, maybe five per cent, have been used. Some of the big ones have been there since the Second Republic, wasting away, just full of sand but we are working together now with the Ministry of Water Resources to utilise those resources for irrigation.

“We need irrigation. One of the dangers facing us is that of the possibility of a drought. It comes once in a while in many countries. It has been in Central Africa for nearly seven years now. It’s in East Africa and we fear it might happen. We are going to intensify the irrigation and build the partnership between us and the Ministry of Water Resources to go to the level where when they finish the dam, we can join hands with them and lease it out to farmers.”


The cost of irrigation

But findings have revealed that most of state governments abandoned the dams and irrigation projects because of the cost of maintaining the pumping machine.

The cost of irrigation is high if dams are driven by pumps. Some dams in the country are not gravity based irrigation, they are pump-based, water has to be pumped by big diesel-driven pumps such that every day the irrigation managers have to buy diesel to be able to pump water to farmers. Therefore, it require lot of money to buy diesel especially at the rate it is being sold at the moment.

Though, experts believe that farmers can reduce the cost of irrigation by adopting deficit irrigation which ensures that they irrigate only at the time the crop needs water. They can do this be targeting the critical period of water needs and irrigate only on those times.


Solar Power Irrigation system

This is set to be a thing of the past with the introduction of Solar powered irrigation systems which is said to be farmers, climate friendly and affordable.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in a report obtained from it website, said solar powered irrigation systems is a climate-friendly technology for both large and small-scale farmers in developing countries. But they need to be adequately managed and regulated to avoid the risk of unsustainable water use, FAO stressed new the report that was published recently.

It stated that sharp and ongoing drops in the price of photovoltaic panels have given new impetus to renewable energy source as a way to enhance irrigation capacity. “Further price reductions could power a revolution in places such as sub-Saharan Africa, where only three percent of the cultivated area is irrigated, seven times less than the global average.

“The rapid expansion of more affordable solar-powered irrigation offers viable solutions that span the water-energy-food nexus, providing a great opportunity for small-holders to improve their livelihoods, economic prosperity and food security,” said FAO Deputy Director-General Helena Semedo.

FAO presented a global overview of the benefits and risks of solar-powered irrigation at an international forum in Rome hosted in partnership with Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development(PAEGC), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE).

Both FAO’s global report and an online Toolbox on Solar-Powered Irrigation Systems, developed jointly with Germany’s Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, designed to provide hands-on guidance to end-users, policy makers and financiers, were launched at the conference.

“The opportunity cheaper solar energy offers also increases the urgency of making sure appropriate water management and governance systems are in place,” said Eduardo Mansur, Director of FAO’s Land and Water Division. “We need to think strategically about how this technology can be used to encourage more sustainable use of groundwater resources to avoid risks such as wasteful water-use and over-abstraction of groundwater.”


New possibilities

Globally, about 20 per cent of cultivated land is irrigated, and they contribute to about 40 percent of total food output.

Irrigation boosts agricultural productivity in various ways, including by allowing 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.

Solar powered irrigations systems has the potential to reduce 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, according to the report.

Assessing the economic viability of a solar-powered irrigation system requires consideration of a broad range of parameters, including the size and configuration of the system, water storage capacity and feasibility, the depth of the well, the remoteness of the area and the type of soil to be irrigated. The so-called “payback periods” for such investments depend on the above conditions, on crops and markets, and also on the presence of government price incentives.

FAO urges governments to review their incentive schemes to favor “green subsidies” over those for fossil fuels.

John Oba is Correspondent at Blueprint Newspaper.

Leave a Reply