INDEED, 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-holder farmers to improve their livelihoods, economic prosperity and food security for all Namibians.
Essentially, sharp and on-going drops in the price of photovoltaic panels give new impetus to the renewable energy source as a way to enhance irrigation capacity.
Further price reductions could power a revolution in places such as Namibia and the sub Saharan region where only 3 percent of the cultivated area is irrigated.
The opportunity cheaper solar energy offers also increases the urgency of making sure appropriate water management and governance systems are in place.
Namibia needs to think strategically about how this technology can be used to encourage the more sustainable use of groundwater resources to avoid risks such as wasteful water use and over abstraction of groundwater.
It is worth noting that globally, about 20 percent 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.
Solar powered irrigations systems indicate the potential to reduce GHG emissions per unit of energy used for water pumping by more than 95 percent compared to alternatives fuelled by diesel or fossil-fuel-driven electricity grids.
Assessing the economic viability of a solar-powered irrigation system today 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.
Irrigation policy decisions should be taken after proper water accounting over larger territorial areas, as rainfall, surface water, groundwater, soil moisture and evaporation processes linked to different land uses are all part of the same hydrological cycle.
Modern solar-powered systems offer useful tools to improve water governance, with electronic controller devices able to provide real-time inputs regarding storage tank levels, pump speed and borehole water levels that could ultimately trigger regulatory decisions to pre-empt excessive use remotely.
A viable alternative is to set water charges in relation to supply and demand calculations determined with satellite and thermal imagery, a technique made easier even at the level of individual fields by the FAO Water Productivity Open-access Portal (WaPor).
One of FAO’s cardinal recommendations for the greater use of solar-powered irrigation is to ensure that no water is withdrawn without an appropriate water management plan in place.
Solar panels produce energy even at times when no irrigation is needed, opening up significant opportunities to run rice huskers, mills, water purifiers and cold storage units, all contributing to rural development and incomes.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015