Access via distributed energy solutions powered by renewable sources is often the most viable and cost effective for communities living in energy poverty. It provides a ‘win-win’ opportunity for both local development and for environmental protection, helping to address climate change.
The agricultural sector, particularly rural smallholder farming, has the potential to play a central role in development and alleviating poverty, but is held back by a lack of access to modern energy services for productive uses and reliable water sources. This is especially true of Kenya’s arid and semi-arid rural areas, home to the poorest people. Few farmers can afford to irrigate their crops, and low rainfall means that rainfed agriculture is increasingly unsustainable. There is a strong case for adopting irrigation and crop cultivation methods that combine judicious water use with increased yields and for providing distributed renewable energy solutions to power more sustainable and productive agriculture.
Between 2011 and 2014, CAFOD and partners tried to address this water-energy-agriculture challenge in Kenya as one aspect of a Community Based Green Energy Project (CB-GEP). The project worked with 56 women’s farming groups to increase their incomes and reduce environmental degradation by providing the groups with greenhouses equipped with solar-powered water pumps and drip irrigation facilities for horticulture production, along with a range of supporting services.
A new report analyses this greenhouse component of the project using the energy delivery model (EDM) toolkit, a participatory approach to designing energy services for poor and marginal groups that IIED and CAFOD began developing in 2013. The findings from testing the EDM approach with partners in Indonesia, along with the full EDM Toolkit, will soon be available (here).
1. Increased rural incomes for 56 women and youth groups through energy systems investments in greenhouse cultivation: Impact achieved
Horticulture in greenhouses has resulted in higher incomes: farming group members are earning between USD50 and USD200 per year from profits. Initially, solar water pumps reduced labour, time and cost on irrigation. However, the breakdown of solar water pumps within a year of installation affected profits as groups had to buy fuel for diesel generators. Nonetheless, the group horticulture production still benefits individuals, giving them higher incomes and access to valued ‘table banking’ facilities (the local term for the group savings and lending strategy), a benefit that was not fully anticipated at the project’s design stage.
2. Improved food security for the target groups by improving their incomes: Impact not achieved/difficult to identify impact
While improved food security in the region was an intended outcome of the project, there is little evidence from the research to suggest that this target was achieved. The current small scale of the project means that the volume of produce from the greenhouse is too small to address this ambitious target. However, the greenhouses enable groups to produce vegetables during the dry season (May to September) and adds to the nutritional value of food sources consumed by group members and their wider community.
3. Reduced environmental degradation and enhanced environmental protection: Impact partially achieved
Water and energy supply and use were the two critical environmental factors for the project. For water supply and use, the drip irrigation systems enabled efficient water usage in a water-scarce area, and introduced the technology for the first time to most of the farming groups. For energy supply and use, the solar-powered pumps provided distributed clean energy to address a livelihood challenge. However, almost all the pumps broke down within 12 months of installation due to the ingress of muddy water, and many groups reverted to or began using diesel power. These technical problems could have been prevented at the design phase.
4. Improved partner and community capacity to manage and maintain energy services in target areas: Impact not achieved
Project design included activities to enable longer-term partner/community capacity to maintain the solar pumping systems after project closure, but the challenges were underestimated. Inadequate group training on using the pump systems and inadequate services for maintenance and repair meant that most groups were unable to prevent the pumps from breaking down. Moreover, service providers in charge of maintenance had neither the local networks nor the capacity to address multiple solar pump failures.
Download the full report here.
Surabhi Rajagopal has been working with SELCO Foundation since 2011, facilitating Ecosystem building activities for the Decentralized energy access sector. Ben Garside is a Senior Researcher leads IIED‘s work on energy access and renewable energy; Sarah Wykes is the Lead Analyst for Climate Change and Energy at CAFOD; and Lazarus Walker is the Livelihoods Programme Officer at CAFOD Nairobi.