Solar-powered irrigation pumps

Solar-powered irrigation pumps

I read from the April 1 issue of this paper that the Region 3 office of the Department of Agriculture (DA) turned over a Solar-Powered Irrigation System (SPIS) to a farmer's cooperative in Barangay San Mateo, Arayat. The DA provides SPIS to groups of farmers pursuant to R.A. 10601, the "Agricultural and Fisheries Mechanization Law," to increase crop production.

There’s no doubt that the SPIS will be beneficial to the farmers because this irrigation system is free and they don’t have to spend on fuel. With the price of Diesel going up to more than P60 per liter, some farmers cannot afford to run their diesel-powered irrigation pumps. With a free energy source, farmers have an almost limitless supply of water.

While this project of the DA is laudable, there is an issue that should be studied carefully. Unregulated use of water pumps could cause a problem that will be difficult to correct. Water is a finite resource that should be properly managed. It cannot be over-extracted. If possible, responsible use of water should be part of the agreement between DA and farmer beneficiaries. The DA can look at the experience of India and other countries on the use of government-provided or subsidized solar-powered irrigation pumps.

In India, that there is a solar-powered revolution going on. According to the e-magazine ‘Yale Environment 360’, there will be more than 3 million farmers using solar-powered pumps by 2026. The negative environmental effect of this agricultural innovation is now being felt.

In the desert state of Rajasthanhas in India, subsidized solar pumps were given to almost 100,000 farmers in the past decade. Those pumps water more than a million acres resulting in an increase in agricultural water use by more than twenty-five percent. Because of this, water tables are falling rapidly and there is little rain to recharge water aquifers. When ordinary pumps cannot produce water anymore, more powerful solar pumps were used by those who can afford them, resulting in more depletion of ground water.

In Yemen, solar-powered farms have triggered “a significant drop in groundwater since 2018 in spite of above average rainfall,” according to an analysis by Leonie Nimmo, a researcher. In the desert province of Helmand in Afghanistan, more than 60,000 opium farmers used solar water pumps resulting in water tables falling ten feet per year, according to David Mansfield, an expert from the London School of Economics.

The success of solar pumps is “threatening the viability of many aquifers already at risk of running dry,” says a World Bank economist. Thus, there should be a balance between the benefits of food production and the unintended consequence of groundwater depletion. Note that groundwater depletion also causes other problems like land subsidence and saltwater intrusion.

The Gujarat state in India came up with a win-win solution to enable farmers to earn extra and discourage them from pumping water excessively. The state is paying some farmers to use their solar-power system to generate power to be sold to the grid. This arrangement can also be implemented by DA to their farmer beneficiaries. It may result in slight increase in project cost, but the long-term benefit is substantial.


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