What will it take to improve nutritional and economic well being–as well as the lives of women and girls–in sub-Saharan Africa? A new study published by Stanford University in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that solar-powered irrigation systems could be a key component.
The lead author on the study was Jennifer Burney, a postdoctoral scholar with the Program on Food Security and the Environment and the Department of Environmental Earth System Science at Stanford, who, along with her colleagues, monitored three 0.5-hectare (1.24-acre) solar-powered drip irrigation systems in the Kalalé district of north Benin. The study, which took place over two years, found that vegetables grown with solar-powered drip irrigation systems (financed and installed by an NGO called the Solar Electric Light Fund, or SELF) significantly enhanced household incomes and nutritional intake of villagers in the area.
“As with any water pump, solar-powered pumps save labor in rural off-grid areas where water hauling is traditionally done by hand by women and young girls,” Burney and her co-authors said, in a statement. “Though photovoltaic systems are often dismissed out-of-hand due to high up-front costs, they have long lifetimes, and in the medium-term, cost less than liquid-fuel-based pumping systems.”