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Powering agriculture with solar irrigation and agri-advisory

Kiran Timilsina, Agri – Analytics Officer


After training at the university for 4 years, I was itching to apply my knowledge on the field and serve the rural farmers in the country. So, as soon as I learnt of Gham Power and that they were developing an agriculture team to develop data driven agriculture service for very rural farmers, I leapt at the opportunity. I was recruited in Gham Power as an Agri-advisory and Analytics Officer where I was tasked with the responsibility of developing agriculture algorithms and building agriculture advisory platform for the users of Gham Power’s Solar Water Pump System (SWPS). The core task was two-fold 1) to help the smallholder farmers with crop choices and cropping calendar prior to the installation and 2) to use the data generated by Gham Power’s smart meter to develop real time agri-advisory. Although it seemed strenuous, the chance to work with actual farmers with their real data spurred me to begin.

Identifying issues

A year journey in Gham Power Nepal took me through some amazing experiences; this job brought me in close contact with farmers from the most remote parts of the country. I realized there is a huge gap between the academic work produced by the scientific community and the real need of the farmers.  I witnessed that a lot of the problems faced by smallholder farmers relying on traditional farming systems could be addressed by introducing very basic improvements in their current agricultural practices. We had surveyed over 150 previous end-customers of SWP through workshops and surveys and the results were astounding. Some farmers could even improve their profit margin by around 80 percent. During the course of our interactions with farmers, we realized that we needed to deliver our services to farmers to bring them into a commercial mindset give them access to quality farm inputs and information on the best farming practices. Easier said than done but at least we had the clarity that the agri-advisory solutions that we develop should encompass all these elements. 

Setting and prioritizing goals

To begin with, I researched on cash flow of crops in Nepalese conditions and developed a platform for economic and technical analysis of farms for making farmers capable to derive utmost benefits from their resources. I have worked on creating effective agri-advice packages for each farmer based on different crops that they plant. So far, we have a database of 22 different types of crops that are usually planted by smallholder farmers in Nepal. We are also developing a platform for dynamic real-time agri-advisory system based on field data measured by GP Smart Meter. We want to be able to channel these advice through reliable medium on need basis of farmers so that they can have access to timely information on crop inputs, market prices and what actions to take based on their real farming data.

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Image: Research on validation of Electrochemical Conductivity (EC) and Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (NPK) value measured by Smart Meter

Gham Power already has great partnerships in place with local ground level agents and agriculture input providers who are currently tasked with gathering data on the farmers on the ground. We are using an App to collect this information on to our digital platform called Off Grid Bazaar (OGB). The information collected through OGB platform, where farmer provides detailed insights of their farm history, together with the real-time information collected via the smart meter will be a milestone to guide farmers for making smart and timely decisions to improve their yield and profit based on the right and accurate data as well as monitor whether the farmer is following them or not.

Looking ahead

The last year has been a steep learning curve for me. A key lesson is that effective implementation agri-advisory requires sound understanding of the context of the farmers, their ability to invest, appropriate medium to deliver agri-advice and a mechanism to check whether it is being followed or not. Every farm has their complexities and issues. Understanding their real contexts is crucial to meet the specific needs of the farmers in order to gain their trust. These lessons are vital to achieve the goal of two-fold increase in production in the farming enterprise of Gham Power SWPS users in the years to come through effective agri-advice. Over the next few months, I will look forward to leverage our existing data sets to publish more accounts on how our farmers are using our agri-advisory solution and increasing yield.