Phekan Lal Mahto, a 53-year-old traditional farmer from Hazaribagh in Jharkhand, had never earned more than Rs 25,000 a year from working on his 2.5-acre farm. This changed when, three years, ago, solar-mounted cycles were introduced in his village. Fitted with a small 0.5 hp water pump, the portable equipment allows groundwater to be lifted for irrigation. With the advent of this system, Phekan’s income has jumped to Rs 1 lakh a year.
“The portable solar-powered pump has enabled farming to take place thrice a year, as against only once a year. There was hardly any water available before, but now, there is a surplus to cultivate green peas, carrots, watermelons and pumpkins,” he tells The Better India.
Like Phekan, many farmers have been benefitting with these solar water pumps since 2017. “About 20 farmers in the village are involved in community farming. We collectively decide on the crop to cultivate for the season and rent the portable irrigation system. We share the equipment by scheduling the days we need to irrigate our farms,” he adds.
‘For ease of access’
Bipin Bihari, project director of JOHAR (Jharkhand Opportunities for Harnessing Rural Growth) says, “A major objective of the initiative was to increase the irrigation area for farmers so they can double their income using climate-resilient technologies.”
JOHAR is a government project, funded by the World Bank Aid, which aims to make farmers more self-reliant through various interventions. Bipin says that a decade ago, the government launched the solar power pump scheme to draw groundwater for irrigation in rural parts of the country. “However, the issue was that these pumps, that had motors of 5 hp and 7.5 hp, were fixed and could only cater to the needs of farmers in the vicinity,” he adds. Farmers like Phekan, who lived in far off and remote areas, could not access the technology.
Keeping this in mind, the solar panels were fitted on a cycle with a 1 hp motor attached to it. Bipin says that while this was beneficial, the water motor pump and mounted solar panel became too heavy to carry on a cycle, that too on such difficult terrains of these farms.
“The team then decided to provide a smaller pump of 0.5 hp. We also introduced a trolley, which can be pushed or pulled as needed. These water pumps, which have no fuel costs or maintenance fees, can be rented at Rs 40 an hour. Of the 1,300 water pumps approved, 50 are operating on-ground, and irrigating farms across Jharkhand,” Bipin says.
A boon in times of scarcity
Bipin says the venture allows the cultivation of additional crops, helps with protective irrigation and saves time and labour. The project aims to bring 10,000 farmers under the shelter of irrigation, which would help increase their income. He adds that adequate availability of irrigation not only enhances productivity but also allows crop diversification.
Raj Kumar Bawani, a farmer from Dhanbad, has been benefitting from the scheme since 2019. “The low capacity of solar water pumps can become a problem for big farms. However, it is a boon when there’s no electricity for hours. Unlike diesel-powered pumps, which cost Rs 100, solar power pumps cost Rs 40, and sometimes even less, if shared between the farmers,” he says.
Raj adds that the facility also helps provide protective irrigation in times of water shortage or less rainfall.
Meanwhile, Bipin says the target is to reach out to as many farmers as possible, through approximately 2,080 micro lift irrigation schemes, which are mainly solar and gravity-based. It is estimated that at least 45,000 to 60,000 farmers will benefit from direct intervention with the project.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)