Renewable energy for smallholder irrigation: A technology adoption toolkit

Renée-Claire Belting, P.P. den Blaauwen, Adriana Melgar, Juan Carlo Intriago Zambrano

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractScientific


Smallholder farming is a backbone of the livelihoods in the Global South. First, it largely sustains local economies in low- and middle-income countries. Second, it produces roughly 80% of the food in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, though barely accounting for 12% of the global farmland. Successful smallholder farming is therefore a main pillar in the eradication of poverty and hunger, thus in the accomplishment of SDG 1 and SDG 2. Yet, many smallholders worldwide remain energy- and water-insecure, which is a major barrier in this endeavor.

Although conventional diesel-powered pumps are generally available in low-resource settings, their use poses a number of economic and environmental downsides. These pumps require the constant input of (cost-intensive) fuels, which becomes a constant source of pollution. Renewable energy-powered pumps (RE-pumps), on the flipside, are environmentally sound, technically simpler and more affordable alternatives. They harness clean energy (i.e. hydro, solar, wind) to drive pressurized irrigation systems, and hence, are capable of sustainably intensifying food production. Moreover, given that RE-pumps neither depend on the availability of (inaccessible) fossil fuels, nor on grid-electricity, they are perfect candidates to support irrigated farming in rural communities.

RE-pumps are potential key technological allies for the local-level synergies of the water-energy-food nexus. Despite the efforts to implement these technologies in smallholder contexts, uptake rates have been usually low. The effective adoption of RE-pumps is a complex process that depends on a number of (non-)technical factors. These factors pertain to the technology (e.g. cost, ease of use, trialability, complexity), the adopter (e.g. education, purchasing power, risk-aversion, environmental-orientation, innovation awareness), as well as the broader context (e.g. type of farm, market development, legal regulations, financial support and subsidies, institutional environment). This entangled interaction of factors renders the decision to adopt (or not adopt) a RE-pump oftentimes to be an unclear, difficult and unstandardized process.

In response to this state of affairs, the Delft University of Technology is carrying out the project ‘Clean energy-based smallholder pumped irrigation: A toolkit for users and practitioners’. Its goal is to provide a set of decision-making tools, which ultimately facilitate stakeholders in the sustained adoption of the most context-appropriate RE-pumps. To reach that goal, the authors will holistically analyze a number of selected cases of (non)successful implementation of RE-pumps in smallholder communities of the Global South. These chosen cases will encompass enough diversity of conditions to provide sufficient richness to the study. In each case, the threefold interaction of factors belonging to the technical, socioeconomic and business dimensions will be studied, thus identifying which of them hindered or facilitated the adoption process. Based on the lessons drawn from the cases, the authors will design the decision-making toolkit in a way that can be flexibly adapted to different smallholder contexts. Furthermore, in a later stage of the project, the toolkit will be tested with real-world cases in Global South countries like Malawi, South Africa, Nepal and Indonesia.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2021
EventICSD 2021: 9th International Conference on Sustainable Development - Online, Virtual
Duration: 20 Sep 202121 Sep 2021
Conference number: 9th


ConferenceICSD 2021
Abbreviated titleICSD 2021
Internet address


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