Financing solar powered irrigation pumps (SPIP) for women and men farmers in Nepal

Water issues in the eastern parts of the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) can be summed up in the form of a paradox: ‘scarcity amidst plenty’. This region comprising of eastern Nepal, eastern parts Indo-Gangetic plains in India and Bangladesh receive plenty of rainfall, has good groundwater potential, of which only a small proportion has been exploited, yet, agricultural communities face severe agricultural water scarcity due to lack of affordable energy for pumping groundwater. Most of these areas grow a single crop per year and farmers leave land fallow in the winter and summer. This phenomenon of water scarcity amidst physical plenty is called ‘economic and institutional water scarcity’ (Molden, ed. 2007) and is caused, as the name suggests, by economic and institutional factors.

Are there any other technological alternatives that will enable small holder farmers to grow more crops in a year by utilizing abundant groundwater and without polluting the environment? Solar powered irrigation pumps (SPIP) provides one such alternative that has been tested widely in the region and has been found to be a technically proven and workable solution and is suited for all categories of farms – large holder, small holder and farms owned by women and men. ICIMOD piloted 3 one horse power (HP) SPIPs in Saptari district of Nepal Terai and found that they can operate for up to 1150-1250 hours in a year, give a daily discharge of 60,000-70,000 litres and can provide enough water to irrigate up to 7.5 hectares of land in a year and grow profitable crops like vegetables in winter and summer, thereby increasing income and nutritional outcomes for women, children and men. 

However, relatively high costs of these pumps – the cheapest 1 HP (1200 kilowatt peak) costs around USD 3800 per piece; means that it is not easily affordable by small holder farmers. All countries in South Asia provide different financial incentives, like subsidies and loans for uptake of SPIP. However, existing literature shows that uptake of SPIPs is limited to richer farmers due to the way subsidies are administered leaving small holder farmers, men and women, outside the ambit of benefits of subsidies given by the government. Is there any way of providing financially sustainable options for adoption of SPIPs for small holder farmers (both men and women) in ways that are robust and can be replicated elsewhere? 

ICIMOD led and WLE led funded project looked at ways of providing sustainable financial solutions for women and men farmers to own (or rent) and operate SPIPs. 

For more information, contact
Aditi Mukherji
Theme Leader, Water and Air

Vijay Khadgi
Coordinator - WLE Special Project

With the support from the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) on Water Land and Ecosystems (WLE), the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is leading the initiative ‘Reviving springs and providing access to solar powered irrigation pumps through community based water use planning with multiple approaches to solving agricultural water problems in the mid-hills and Terai in India and Nepal’.