Image Source: https://furtherafrica.com/
Many rural areas have been without power because there is little progress in expanding the continent’s power grid, and it can be expensive to connect even if someone has access. This has forced residents to come up with other solutions, such as burning wood or kerosene to cook and have light.
African villages first embraced solar power in the 1990s. However, farms didn’t need their crops to have more light than they already received from the sun. Over time, farmers have been able to utilize the sun’s energy to power various systems and produce two to three times more yield than before, adopting new ways to become more efficient in the process.
Rural African farms used to rely solely on rainwater to irrigate their fields, which limited their growing season to the three- to six-month rainy season. However, solar-powered drip pumps have expanded the amount of planting farmers do each year.
This method employs tubing along rows of plants, providing a slow trickle of water directly to the root of crops. This system is beneficial to farmers for many reasons, including:
- Providing an adequate supply of water during droughts
- Preventing water contamination
- Enabling control of the amount of nutrients crops receive
- Allowing watered roots to be targeted so fewer weeds develop
These systems have provided greater yields for farming communities, helping to provide food year-round.
Another struggle for small farms in Africa is the lack of refrigeration. Without it, preserving food and decreasing the amount of harvested produce that makes it to a table is difficult. Up to one-third of all food harvested in Africa goes bad due to the lack of refrigeration. Keeping it is vital to decreasing hunger on the continent.
Solar energy is now powering refrigerators, allowing less food and milk to go to waste. Companies have developed complete solar refrigeration that anyone off the grid can use for their homes and farms.
Solar energy is also allowing rural communities to catch up in the world of agro-processing. The sun is now powering equipment that transforms crops and can give farmers a competitive edge at markets.
Trade is still a large part of the African economy, and it can be advantageous to have products such as chips and powders made from the raw food harvested by farmers.
It used to be that only communities connected to the power grid had enough energy to run the machines necessary to make these products. However, with the increase in and efficiency of solar energy use, even off-the-grid areas have the power needed to run machines that process food.
It may seem like simplifying some of these processes would decrease the number of workers needed for food production, but the implementation of solar energy is actually creating employment opportunities.
More workers will be needed as farmers start processing more food. A large solar power station has opened in Morocco that provided 2,000 workers with jobs during construction and has up to 100 workers crewing its day-to-day operations.
Generally, the various solar energy initiatives and projects in Africa are employing tens of thousands of employees, competing with jobs in more traditional but less available power-producing industries.
This is especially empowering for women and youth in the countries, as data shows that these previously undervalued groups are finding careers in this area.
The Future of Solar in Africa
Experts estimate half of the new energy installed in Africa by 2050 will be renewable sources, including solar. As solar equipment prices continue to drop, it is likely that using these resources will become advantageous over traditional energy production and will continue to power farmers around the continent, regardless of their size.
Jane is an agriculture and environmental journalist and the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co, where she covers sustainability and eco-friendly living.