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Solar-Powered Irrigation Creates a Harvest of Plenty in Sub-Saharan Africa

A 500% increase in vegetable intake during the dry season is no small change: all because of a solar-powered water pump.

I have lived in sub-Saharan Africa during the dry season—and as someone who loves—loves!—her greens, I can describe in disappointing detail the marked drop in supplies of fresh produce that occurs when the rain-blessed crops run out. You want to buy collard greens, and instead you come home with maize flour, maybe beans, and maybe something from what's left of the dwindling tomato supply.

So the news of a 500 percent increase in vegetable intake during the dry season because of solar-powered irrigation is exciting—and a reduction in the labor demands put on women equally so.

A project in Benin led by Stanford University compared the agricultural yields of three solar-powered water pumps (two for surface water and one to access groundwater 25 meters below the surface) with those of villages in which irrigation was done by hand, the predominant method used to water crops throughout the region.

The results were impressive: 1.9 tons a month of produce that included tomatoes, okra, eggplants, peppers, eggplants, carrots and other greens. In the first year, the women kept an average of 18 percent of the produce per month—that was enough for their own households, and they could sell the surplus, earning income that would enable them to purchase staples and protein during the dry season.

Five a day!
Whereas vegetable intake in most villages increases during the rainy season about 150 grams per person daily, the villages using the solar pumps saw an increase of 250 grams during the dry season, bringing the average daily intake to 750 grams of vegetables per person—the equivalent of the USDA recommendation of five servings of vegetables a day.

There's no mention in the study of a plan to boost supplies of and distribute the solar pumps (they are cheaper in the long run but have higher up-front costs than fuel-based pumps, but irrigation by hand remains a common practice for economic reasons, not because of an aversion to fuel)—but if the research team can tackle that question, sub-Saharan Africa during the dry season will be a much more well-fed, nutritious, and greener place. This is a great start!

Tags:Solar-Powered Irrigation Creates a Harvest of Plenty in Sub-Saharan Africa
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