Low farm output with decreasing income puts around 55 per cent of marginal and small farmers in debt. Though they own 68 per cent of agricultural holdings in the country, these are less than a hectare each in size often making their earnings less than inputs costs.
A recent study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) and Villgro Innovations Foundation as part of their Powering Livelihoods programme makes a case for helping farmers reduce their debt and vulnerabilities by introducing them to micro solar pumps.
Currently two-thirds of these marginal farmers have a high dependence on diesel and kerosene pumps for irrigation. The study found that the farmers spend up to 40 per cent of their production cost on their fuel and energy needs. With rain-fed farms being vulnerable because erratic rainfall adversely impacts crop production, the farmers are forced to follow a one cropping cycle.
In the report titled “Mainstreaming Micro Solar Pumps to Improve Incomes of Marginal Farmers” researchers Wase Khalid, Abhishek Jain, Shruti Jindal and Arpan Thacker from CEEW argue that shifting from their existing dependence on diesel and kerosene to solar pumps would be a win-win for the farmers. It would result in significant reductions in emission as well as input costs for farmers. It would also help to reduce the risks in agricultural production and “enhance yields, cropping cycles and profitability for farmers while reducing their debt burden and vulnerabilities.”
The researchers explored policies that could make the micro solar pumps or sub-HP solar pumps (SHSPs), as they are called, available to the farmers, and also look at their marketing and manufacturing aspects. SHSPs come in two types, those that are submersible and those which can be used on the surface.
The report focuses on what would be most appropriate for these farms—low head and moderate flow SHSPs with an output of up to 30,000 LPD (litres per day) that are commonly manufactured and available. These could be used effectively to support sustainable irrigation for those engaged in horticulture and multi-cropping. Apart from irrigation SHSPs are also good for other livelihoods activities, especially fisheries, aquaculture, dairy and poultry, says the study.
It recommends some policy measures and support that could popularise micro solar pumps. The first suggestion is to include SHSPs in existing government schemes. Currently both the Centre and states focus on high-capacity solar pumps.
“It creates an uneven playing field, where SHSPs compete on market prices against heavily subsidised (60–90 per cent subsidy) larger capacity pumps,” explains the report.
It also calls for a flexible approach to pump performance standards, rewarding efficiency through innovative tendering, supporting more pilot demonstrations and an end-user financing scheme for SHSPs if subsidy is not possible. “As most SHSPs cost about ₹30,000–50,000, end-user financing could unlock greater adoption of SHSPs,” concludes the study.