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June 2010 - Present
Solar Market Gardens as a Tool for Rural Development

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A woman from the women’s group in Kalale, Benin plants leafy greens in a solar powered, drip-irrigated garden. Solar electrification for irrigation is a new technology intervention to support income generation in rural Africa.
Photo credit: 
Marshall Burke

Since 2007, FSE has been evaluating the livelihood and environmental impacts of an effort led by a US-based NGO, the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), to use solar arrays to power irrigation pumps for growing high-valued crops (solar market gardens) in the dry season in Northern Benin. We found that photovoltaic technology yields substantial (and significant) benefits in the form of household income and nutritional intake, and is cost-competitive in the medium term, especially where fuel supplies are unreliable. See "An Alternative Development Model: Assessing solar electrification for income generation in Benin" for further information about this project.

Photovoltaic technology yields substantial (and significant) benefits in the form of household income and nutritional intake, and is cost-competitive in the medium term, especially where fuel supplies are unreliable.

While there will be hurdles to overcome in taking such a project to scale, we believe that this technology can play a significant role in augmenting regional food security and economic development in the Sudano-Sahel. Our strategy is to provide very careful evaluation of the solar market garden system using a randomized, control-study approach at each phase of scale up.

In our view, it is critical that investments in this system pay off in the long run for external donors, farmer groups, and private farmers adopting the technology. We would like to see the "pay off" include more than the concept of private profitability; nutritional improvements, equity between and among households, marketing expansion, and educational impacts are all included in our scope of study.

In an effort to scale up this technology, FSE is planning to evaluate and monitor solar market gardens in a dozen or so new villages in Northern Benin. The overall goal in this phase of scale-up is to create a regional market and learning center for the technology and farm products that can be replicated in other areas of West Africa.

Annotated project photo gallery

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