Groundwater discussions at Forum on Solar Irrigation Technologies

The International Forum on Solar Technologies for Small-scale Agriculture and Water Management was held at FAO Headquarters in Rome on 12-13 April 2018. Co-organized by FAO, IFAD, Powering Agriculture, IWMI and WLE, this forum aimed to look at the opportunities to benefit from solar technology by small-holder farmers, while also discussing some of the challenges and potential pitfalls associated with financing, implementing and regulating this rapidly growing sector. The overall goal was to bring together practitioners from the public and private sector to ensure that this beneficial technology is developed and used in a way that enhances equity and sustainability for people and nature.

Participants included solar and irrigation technology developers, researchers, funders and aid organizations, creating an environment for cross-sectoral learning and sharing. The program included discussions about: innovative financing, investing and business models; capacity development; water management; and policies, incentives, rules and regulations. A recent FAO-GIZ report on The Benefits and Risks of Solar-powered Irrigation – A Global Overview by Hans Hartung and Lucie Pluschke was presented.

GRIPP partners, IWMI and WLE, were represented with eight participants presenting relevant work in various plenary, parallel and poster sessions, as well as moderating discussions. Jennie Barron of WLE’s Land and Water Solutions for Sustainable Intensification research theme presented in the opening plenary and moderated a session on innovative business models for solar-powered irrigation. Miriam Otoo and Shilp Verma of IWMI presented cases on business models for sustainable solar irrigation in Ethiopia and solar cooperatives in India that sell energy as a remunerative crop, respectively. Both contributed a great deal to the lively discussion on the consequences of unregulated groundwater pumping using solar energy and the necessary financial and policy incentives for sustainable groundwater use.

Karen Villholth of IWMI continued the discussion on the importance of understanding groundwater resources in a session on solar technologies as an opportunity, not a liability, moderated by Alvar Closas of IWMI. Other partners, including Robert Schultz and Kerstin Lohr from GIZ, discussed various tools and tool boxes that have been developed to enhance the understanding and practice of water management in association with the use of solar pumping. The collective wealth of experience researching the importance of groundwater for farmers as well as the vulnerability of this often invisible resource was a major contribution in this and other sessions at the forum.

Contributing to the discussion of approaching solar irrigation from a multidisciplinary and sustainability perspective, Petra Schmitter of IWMI, presented on integrated suitability maps for solar irrigation as part of a session on strategic policy instruments to promote and regulate solar irrigation technologies. These maps, presently developed for Ethiopia, Ghana and Mali, are a tool that can help policy makers and investors identify where solar powered irrigation makes most sense as an intervention. There are plans to expand the maps for Burkina Faso, Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania, and eventually to develop an Africa-wide online map system.

The forum reinforced that IWMI, WLE and collaborating partners have a great deal to contribute and share in terms of understanding the effects of solar irrigation on groundwater and surface water resources, while also providing the tools to making the spread of this technology more sustainable and equitable. Many opportunities for future collaboration and networking, importantly between researchers and implementers, were born out of the meeting, and our understanding of the current social and financial environment surrounding this technology will help shape research and outreach constructively and beneficially.

To learn more, read a Thrive blog on WLE-related work on solar irrigation.

See photos from the forum.

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