A solar irrigation pumpset that fits into a jhola is helping marginal farmers
Compact and portable solar powered pump sets are making irrigation easier and farmers using them say it has had a positive impact on their crop yield in Jharkhand.
Aishwarya Tripathi 8 Sep 2023 10:21 AM GMT
Akli Tudu picks up her jhola, balances shiny black solar panels on her head and walks across to her one-acre mustard field. The jhola is no ordinary cloth bag; it holds a portable solar-powered irrigation pump that will help the marginal farmer from Surgi village in Gurabandha, Jharkhand, irrigate her crop.
The portable solar-powered irrigation pump, introduced by Pune-based startup Khethworks, is of the size of a mixer jar, and is helping small and marginal farmers meet their irrigation needs. These farmers, with land holdings of up to 2 hectares or 5 acres, are unable to afford large-sized solar irrigation pumps that cost up to Rs 100,000. And easy-to-operate portable irrigation pumps are coming to their rescue.
Single-switch, automatic operation and no installation cost of the portable pumpsets means anyone can easily use them. The farmers can transport the Khethworks solar pump daily and store it safely at night. They can also rent it out for additional income. Khethworks targeted shallow water and surface water areas in the east where rechargeable water continues as a sustainable resource.
Tudu, who belongs to the Mahli tribe in East Singhbhum district, swears by her portable pump. She submerges the portable solar pump in a pond on her field, attaches a pipe that comes along with the pump and presses a button — and the water gushes out.
According to her, adoption of solar-powered irrigation pumpset has increased her earnings due to an increase in the yield of her crops, and also savings on diesel, which otherwise had to be purchased to run conventional pumpsets.
“This year, my land yielded 1.5 quintals [150 kilograms] of mustard, which has never happened before. Last year, we had only 30 kilograms of mustard,” Tudu told Gaon Connection. She said timely and sufficient irrigation was responsible for the bumper yield this year. She gets the mustard pressed and stores it as oil.
“My niece got married this year and we had enough mustard oil to be used for cooking in the wedding. Otherwise, we would have to buy it at Rs 235 per litre. We are also planning to sell the extra oil,” she added.
The central government, under its PM-KUSUM (Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan) scheme, has been popularising the use of solar irrigation pumps (SIP) to replace the diesel pumpsets in the agriculture sector. The intention is to aid India transition to a clean-energy based economy that will help achieve the net zero target by 2070.
However, the capacity of the pumps provided under KUSUM scheme range between 2 horsepower (hp) to 10 horsepower. But these are too big and expensive for the small and marginal farmers.
The mobile micro-SIP by Khethworks has two solar panels of 168 Watt each, which Tudu transports on her husband’s motorbike to irrigate another patch of land in a different location. Like Tudu, 32 other farmers in Gurabandha block are utilising these micro SIPs.
Also Read: Can India’s solar irrigation scheme succeed without benefitting small and marginal farmers?
A number of small and marginal farmers are opting for portable solar-based irrigation pumpsets. For instance, Tudu is a member of a Farmer Producer Company called Gharoni Lahanti Mahila Utpadak Producer Company Limited, and last September she bought the portable pump of 0.48 hp.
She paid Rs 6,000 up front and the balance has to be paid in instalments for the portable solar pump, which costs Rs 26,000 at a subsidised rate. She has already made enough profits and will soon finish paying all instalments.
“I will be clearing my last instalment in the coming week,” the tribal farmer said with pride.
Until August last year, Tudu depended on diesel-powered irrigation pumpset to irrigate her land. Though she owned the pumpset, the fuel cost her Rs 100 per litre. The nearest petrol pump is 25 kilometres away in Dumariya. According to her, the pump used five litres of fuel in a day to run.
“It cost me nearly Rs 16,000 to run the pump to irrigate my mustard crop last season,” she said. Furthermore, to operate the bulky diesel pump, Tudu had to hire a labourer who charged Rs 200 per day for the job.
Bulky pumpsets that are difficult to move are liable to be stolen and that is an added worry for farmers like Tudu. There were so many nights she was sleepless wondering if her pumpset would still be there the following morning where she had left it in her field.
Portable solar pumpset is addressing these problems to a large extent. “These pumps cost Rs 52,000, out of which the farmers need to pay only Rs 26,000 — the remaining being paid by Tata Trusts under its Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives,” Durga Dayal Patra, CEO of Gharoni Lahanti Mahila Utpadak Producer Company Limited, told Gaon Connection. “Out of Rs 26,000, the upfront cost is only Rs 6,000 and the remaining can be paid by accessing loans through our company,” Patra added. Patra’s producer company works with 5000 farmers in the block and has 2095 women shareholders, out of which 33 have invested in the pumpset.
“In this region, you will see more didis [women] on field as compared to dadas [men], which is why we are focused on having women as members of our company,” he added.
Like Tudu, 29-year-old Sunita Murmu from Gura village in East Singhbhum turned to the micro-SIP by Khethworks in November 2022.
Murmu was trained about the usage of the portable pump at a demo session organised in her Farmers’ Producer Company. She in turn taught her husband and other family members to run the pumpset. And her irrigation woes are now over, she said.
The pumps run on five speeds, and Murmu can control the flow of water according to her need. She submerges it in an open well or pond. The pump automatically switches off if the water level is below 12 feet. Adoption of a solar-based irrigation pumpset has also brought down her electricity bills. And irrigating fields is no more linked to the erratic power supply in her village.
“In summers, we get electricity for roughly five hours. God forbid if it rains, then we might not get it at all. We could never get water when we wanted to irrigate,” Murmu told Gaon Connection.
Highlighting the problem statement behind Khethworks’s idea of micro solar pump, Chief Executive Officer Victor Lesniewski pointed at the over-dependence on inconsistent monsoon rains and fuel-based pumps by 86 per cent of small and marginal farmers — which effects their productivity and income — particularly in eastern India where productive electricity does not reach the fields.
“In these areas, water is available, but lifting it is expensive. Diesel prices are increasing and kerosene availability is decreasing. With irrigation energy costs estimated to be 20-40% of production costs (up to Rs. 10,000 per acre per season), smallholder farmers are choosing to abandon farming outside of the monsoon and migrate for labour,” he told Gaon Connection.
Also Read: Monsoon Session: 19 out of 23 states have installed less than 40% of sanctioned solar irrigation pumpsets — Centre informs Lok Sabha
“On average we have around 2 smallholder farming users per pump and about 2000 direct beneficiaries across 14 Indian states, with about a quarter of those in Jharkhand specifically,” he added.
CEO Patra informed Gaon Connection that the Farmers’ Producer Company was in talks with Khethworks officials to further bring down the price to make the micro pumps more accessible.
Citing the challenges, Lesniewski pointed at the supply chain disruptions and the rising costs of raw materials over the last few years. On the demand side, he mentioned the relatively low awareness of solar pumps in remote communities despite years of capital subsidies.
“The biggest challenge is the upfront cost of the solar pump to the end customer. We are hoping to roll out end-user financing next month with partners in both Jharkhand and Odisha,” he told Gaon Connection.
Lesniewski said the company will be working to crack the end-user financing ecosystem.