Accessibility links

Breaking News

Solar-Powered Pumps Aid African Farmers

Irrigation systems tested in Benin led to bigger surpluses that women farmers could sell. That way they could buy more food during the dry season. Transcript of radio broadcast:

Correction attached

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

<!-- IMAGE -->

A new study in West Africa shows how farm irrigation systems powered by the sun can produce more food and money for villagers. The study in Benin found that solar-powered pumps are effective in supplying water, especially during the long dry season.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the part of the world with the least food security. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that more than one billion of the world's people faced hunger last year. Around two hundred sixty-five million of them live south of the Sahara Desert. Lack of rainfall is one of their main causes of food shortages.

Jennifer Burney from Stanford University in California led the study. The research team helped build three solar-powered drip irrigation systems in northern Benin.

Between thirty and thirty-five women used each system to pump water from the ground or a stream. Each woman was responsible for farming her own one hundred twenty square meters of land. They also farmed other land collectively.

The solar-powered irrigation systems produced an average of nearly two metric tons of vegetables per month. During the first year, the women kept a monthly average of almost nine kilograms of vegetables for home use.

They sold the surplus produce at local markets. The earnings greatly increased their ability to buy food during the dry season which can last six to nine months.

People in the two villages with the systems were able to eat three to five more servings of vegetables per day. But making the surplus available at markets also had a wider effect.

The study compared the villages with two others where women farmed with traditional methods like carrying water in buckets. The amount of vegetables eaten in those villages also increased, though not as much.

The researchers note that only four percent of the cropland in sub-Saharan Africa is irrigated. Using solar power to pump water has higher costs at first. But the study says it can be more economical in the long term than using fuels like gasoline, diesel or kerosene. And solar power is environmentally friendly.

The study appears this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by June Simms. You can post comments and learn about other issues in the developing world at I'm Steve Ember.


Correction: Stanford researchers studied the impact of the irrigation systems but did not build them, as this story suggested. The project was financed and built by the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), a nongovernmental organization.