Delivering Effective Irrigation in Malawi with Sharp Solar Panels
Malawi has great water resources (including the third largest lake in Africa). However, it can be difficult for farmers in rural areas to access the water supply due to issues with the country’s energy infrastructure. One way to solve this problem is to build ‘mini-grids’ using solar modules, so that farmers have access to decentralised electricity, generated locally.
The Bakasala Irrigation Scheme taps water from the Shire River, the biggest river in Malawi, in Lilangwe, Blantyre. The aim of the scheme is to improve land usage and watershed management practices in the Shire River basin by addressing underlying environmental and social issues.
This project is one of more than 70 in Malawi by Seine Tech in partnership with FISD Engineering company using Sharp modules. After an extensive survey, it was found that 120 Sharp Polycrystalline solar panels with a rated power of 255Wp could be used for this project. The generated power from these panels is used to operate water pumps to irrigate fields, benefitting about 600 farmers.
The solar powered pump and irrigation system will ensure the sustainable and economical irrigation of 50ha of crops, including maize - a crop that is widely used in Malawi to make the staple food ‘nsima’.
Prior to the project, irrigation was done using manual techniques like treadle pumps or fetching water directly from the river. Besides improving the daily lives of the 600 local famers, the solar power system ensures regular irrigation of the crops and thereby higher yields and increased income, eventually benefitting the whole community.
Commenting on the project, Joan Grifé Singla, Seine Tech, the installers said, “We’ve done several projects in Malawi since 2013 (more than 70), all of them using Sharp solar modules, because they offer high quality and good guarantees. Most of these PV projects are for medium-scale irrigation, but some are for rural electrification too, through decentralised mini-grids. Malawi has a huge natural resource in terms of water availability, but lack of energy infrastructure to manage these water resources, for example to use for irrigation. This means that solar PV energy plays an important role in Malawi for developing sustainable irrigation projects.”
The Millennium Challenge Account Malawi (MCA-Malawi) is funding the development of the scheme under the Environment and Natural Resources Management (ENRM) Project.
Overall, 11 Non-Governmental Organisations were involved in the planning and implementation of the project that started in late 2017 and was finalised in July 2018.
Usually, about 50-60 m3 of water per day and hectare are required. Therefore, two surface pumps with 11 kW each were installed performing 270m3/h each on an average day. To operate these pumps, 30.6 kWpof solar panels were installed (120 units by 255 Wp= 30.6 kW).
The results of the project have helped improve the lives of all those involved. Kondwani Nanchukwa, Program Director Foundation for Irrigation and Sustainability said, “Currently, we have about 450 farmers who have portions of farmland here but our target is to have 600 farmers. As FISD, we realise that bringing this scheme to these communities is a means to provide them with alternative sources of income and at same time divert them from exploiting natural resources.”
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