Agriculture plays an important role in Bangladesh’s economy and employs 45 percent of the country’s workforce. Water has been a critical lifeline for farmers as a day without proper irrigation can damage crop quality and yields.
Traditionally, Bangladeshi farmers have relied on expensive diesel- or electricity-powered irrigation pumps. There are 1.34 million diesel pumps and 270,000 electric-run pumps used for irrigation. Every year, diesel pumps consume 1 million tons of diesel worth $900 million. This is a costly amount, which the government subsidizes at the expense of other agricultural innovations. Transportation of diesel to crop fields is difficult and the supply can be inconsistent. Farmers are often dependent on middle-men, who charge higher diesel prices during peak irrigation and cropping season and drive farmers further into financial difficulty. Diesel pumps also frequently break down, have high maintenance costs, and pollute the environment.
The minority of farmers, fortunate enough to own electricity-run pumps, also faces persistent power outages. This forces them to operate their pumps at night when electricity consumption decreases and power failures are less likely.
Solar-powered irrigation pumps are a low-cost and reliable irrigation alternative for farmers as solar technology is well suited to the country’s flat terrain and abundant sunshine. The Second Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development Project (RERED II) pilots the installation of solar-powered irrigation pumps and aims to increase access to clean energy in rural Bangladesh where grids are not economically viable. RERED II builds upon previous knowledge from a successful solar home system in Bangladesh.
The World Bank channels IDA funds and grants from multiple sources including the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Funds (BCCRF), the Global Partnership for Output Based Aid (GPOBA), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The implementing agency, the Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), channels grant and credit support to partner organizations (POs) comprised of non-government organizations (NGOs) and private investors.
POs put in 15% of the project cost as equity and supply water to the farmers as needed, and at an agreed price, during irrigation season. POs order pumps once IDCOL approves technical specifications and install them. After installation, POs can apply for credit and grant financing from IDCOL. IDCOL provides up to 50% of the project cost as grant financing and 35% as credit support – the remaining 15% is covered by PO equity.
Farmers in the pilot area have been switching from diesel-run to solar irrigation pumps. By reducing irrigation costs, solar pumps are becoming popular, especially in areas without electricity grid coverage. Compared to their diesel counterparts, these pumps are also more reliable and easier to maintain. For farmers like Islam, the subsidized solar photovoltaic (PV) panels provided by IDCOL are a dream come true: “During the last season, I spent a large amount on diesel to irrigate my crops. Now with the solar irrigation pump, the cost has reduced by almost half,” states Islam, who lives in Sohagpur.
Farmlands that are not flooded during rainy season – and therefore suitable for 3 crops per year – are ideal for solar pumps, which can provide power for about 20 acres of land and 3 annual crop irrigations. And given Bangladesh’s fragmented land ownership, a group of 20-25 farmers can associate to buy water from one irrigation pump. Solar-powered irrigation also reduces government’s fuel subsidy for the agriculture sector as well as diesel imports.
- More than 300 pumps installed benefiting more than 6,000 farmers, with a target of 1,250 additional pumps by 2018.
- Each solar pump can supply electricity for 3 crop irrigations for 20 acres of land
IDCOL is currently promoting a new innovative ownership model based on smaller-sized pumps. Instead of buying water from POs, farmers will be able to own their own pumps with credit and grant support from the project.
The solar irrigation technology makes use of clean, renewable energy possible; provides numerous environmental and financial benefits; and enables sustainable development even in the remotest pastures of Bangladesh.