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Original Article Title:
How Solar Power Is A Practical Answer For Farming Communities In Asia

Farmers who have been forced to work on small and unproductive plots of land, or who are increasingly facing droughts and rising temperatures brought about by climate change, are finding that solar can provide them with a whole new way of processing, preserving, and storing their crops

In Asia, we are fully aware of the power of the sun. But there are many ways the sun can transform lives and livelihoods – through its effect on food growing and energy supply and a combination of the two. Farmers who have been forced to work on small and unproductive plots of land, or who are increasingly facing droughts and rising temperatures brought about by climate change, are finding that solar can provide them with a whole new way of processing, preserving, and storing their crops.

Two billion people rely on food produced by small-scale farming, which is a crucial source of income for the world’s least wealthy people. And these growers and producers are often just one bad harvest away from disaster. But clean energy technologies such as solar-powered irrigation pumps, dryers, mills, and cold storage can and are dramatically improving people’s ability to earn a living and feed their families. 

In off-grid communities, these solar products help producers and local vendors grow more, get a better price for what they sell, add value by processing their harvests, or work with new crops and products.

And in a world where one in nine people are undernourished, higher productivity leads to better health as well as raised incomes.

Yet access to renewable energy and new appliances is not, on its own, enough to improve livelihoods. Farmers, producers and local vendors also need training, resources, finance, and connections – an ecosystem of support and opportunities – to take advantage of these tools.

Asia is home to some trailblazing organisations driving progress in these key areas and bridging the gap between the agriculture and energy access sectors. 

The power to create change

Studies gathered by Power for All show that renewable energy technologies have boosted agricultural yields across Asia. There are estimated to be 180,000 solar water pumps in use today in India, and another 3.7 million farming households could benefit from irrigated farming, representing a market potential of $9.4 billion by 2030. In Nepal solar technology cut grain processing time by 75 per cent.

Sustainable technology can also bring much-needed cold storage to off-grid communities. Every year, lack of refrigeration leads to food losses totalling $4.5 billion in India. 

To increase farming outputs, India has announced plans to install 26 million solar water pumps, while Bangladesh has set a target to finance 50,000 solar water pumps.

Case study: holistic support helps landless women

Indian business S4S Technologies manufactures a patented solar conduction dryer, suitable for dehydrating crops, including fruit, vegetables, grains, and spices. Under its ‘buy-back’ mechanism, the company also buys crops from farmers and trains agricultural entrepreneurs, usually landless women farmers, to dry them.

S4S works with local NGOs, already deeply embedded in the community, to identify, train, and support these women, boosting their business and technical skills. It also partners with microfinance institutions to make sure its solution is affordable to as many farmers as possible. This holistic approach won S4S the 2020 Ashden Award for Energy and Livelihoods.

Cooling innovators Ecozen save the strawberry crop

Mahabaleshwar, in the state of Maharashtra, is India’s strawberry capital. The district is home to just over 10,000 people but produces 85 per cent of India’s strawberries – close to 20,000 tonnes of the fruit are harvested every year. But there and across India, many poorer farmers lack efficient, affordable cold storage for the food they grow.

In 2021, when dramatic lockdown restrictions closed markets and limited consumer spending, these marginalised farmers faced disaster. Local tourism and demand for ice cream – both of which create opportunities for strawberry farmers – were also badly hit. Across Mahabaleshwar, farmers faced a loss of around $2.7 million.

But the arrival of three portable solar-powered cold rooms from Indian innovator Ecozen helped small-scale farmers in the district to meet demand in the huge cities of Mumbai and Pune – as well as the further afield markets of Bengaluru, Kochi and Chennai. This allows farmers to store and sell their products at optimal market prices, increasing their profits by more than 40 per cent. Ecozen won the 2018 Ashden Award for Powering Business and is a member of Ashden’s Fair Cooling Fund.

Solar dairies help farmers be part of the national supply chain

There are more than 75 million smallholder dairy farmers in India. Most are in off-grid areas without refrigeration, or reliant on expensive and polluting diesel generators. This locks people out of national supply chains, and farmers have to spend hours transporting milk to markets or sell at a lower price to middlemen. In Maharashtra, western India, a network of community dairies has been set up, using sustainable refrigeration technology, where people can bring their milk to be tested, chilled, and sold.

The chilling service in Latur is organised by social enterprise Promethean Power Systems, in partnership with local NGO Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP). Promethean’s chillers use batteries incorporating sustainable thermal energy storage technology, making diesel generators redundant.

Throughout Asia, low-income communities are most at risk from the climate crisis: higher temperatures threaten their crops and produce, as well as their health. The sun gives us a gift through its power every day. 

It’s through scaling and replicating initiatives like these that food producers and farmers will be at the forefront of climate adaptation and be able to run successful businesses that support their families and communities. 

500 million smallholder farmers around the world lack access to modern irrigation solutions. And when conventional cooling, chilling and processing are unaffordable for many, using the sun to provide these essentials is a huge game-changer for millions and potentially billions. If governments, businesses and communities can embrace the power of the sun to its full potential, we will be on course for a much healthier, happier, more secure future. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Original Article published by Business World

Original Author Credits:

Chhavi Sharma

The author is Programme Manager (International Climate Solutions) at Ashden More From The Author >>