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Small sized water pumps for the smallholders

Nepal’s irrigation sector faces many challenges: majority of the farmers are still reliant on seasonal, unpredictable monsoon rain, drying canals and manual tube wells for irrigation, all of which are highly unreliable and suppress farm income. Alternative irrigation solutions powered by diesel and grid-lines exist but only 4.4% of Nepal’s 13.4 million farmers have access to it. An unassuming problem with these alternatives is related to their system sizes. These pumps have conventionally been designed for farms that are greater than two hectares in area.

Diesel pump
Image 1. A Diesel pump in action. This pump is designed to irrigate 4 hectares of land, far more than what the average farm in Nepal is.

This wouldn’t have been much of a problem had Nepali farmers cultivated in large farms. But in an age where more than 94% of total land holdings are less than 2 hectares in size and land sizes are shrinking more rapidly than ever, the presence of conventional diesel and electric pumps rarely contributes to the irrigation problem faced by smallholder farmers.

pie chart
Figure 2. The pie chart shows the fragmented land holding in Nepal. More than 94% land holding in Nepal are less than 2 hectares in size.

Though the picture presented so far has been bleak, modern technological innovations are rapidly helping smallholder farmers find the right irrigation solution for their farms. Solar technology, undoubtedly, has contributed the most of all. By using a combination of modern technology and data-driven algorithms, suppliers can provide the exact system needed for each small farm. This is a big leap forward against traditional practices which relied on ‘one-model-fits-all’ philosophy.

How is Gham Power solving these problems?

We have combined our expertise in the sector of renewable energy and translated it into a competitive advantage in Nepal’s agricultural segment. Rapid decline in the price of solar photo voltaic technology over the past six years means that our solutions are cost-effective against conventional diesel and electric pumps. We also use proprietary algorithms to individually customize solar irrigation solutions based on the data farmers provide us.

solar pump
Figure 3. A 2 horsepower (HP) solar pump can irrigate 1 to 2 hectares of land.

For the past two years, we had focused on the deployment of 1 horsepower and 2 horsepower capacity solar water pumps, which served the need of 0.5-2 ha of land. With time, however, we also realized the need to integrate smaller solar irrigation solutions into our product portfolio to meet the water requirement of land sizes in the 0.1-0.2 hectare segment. This widens the market opportunity for us, with an estimated addressable market of 50,000 smallholding farmers over the next 5 years. These small pumps are powered by 2 solar panels of 80 watt each. The water output from these small pumps average at 10,000 litre per day. We have also innovated a carriage bag for these smaller pumps. Farmers can now fold the solar panels and fit them into a small bag and transport them to their homes, minimizing chances of theft.

mini pump 1
Figure 4. Solar panel that powers the small-sized water pump.

We have, so far, deployed a handful of these small-sized irrigation systems across the southern plains of Nepal, where Nepal’s agriculture is focused. The small-sized systems have currently been priced at $450 each and with greater testing of these systems and alternating between different components, we aim to lower the price further to benefit the Base-of-Pyramid segment.  This reduction in cost will be complemented by the reduction in our project development costs, credit to the use of a decentralized distribution network and an online data-driven platform – Off Grid Bazaar – for project development.

mini pump 2
Figure 5. Our mini solar water pump can be easily packed into a bag and carried to the field. This minimizes chances of theft.

In the past three months since the small irrigation kit was launched, we have seen demand for these small-sized systems substantially rise. In the near future, we are planning to leverage partnerships with locally-based institutions to increase our service coverage to rural areas and in turn, expedite scale-up.