Renewable Energy in Agriculture

Ecological agriculture and Renewable Energy are based on the same fundamental principles – Living in communion with Nature recognising eco relationships; judicious use, reuse and recycling of resources while reducing harmful pollution; bringing down costs while improving access to healthy food, nutrition and incomes. If we put farmer at the centre, he/she is already facing umpteen challenges – unpredictable weather, rising farming costs, debt burdens and equally unreliable markets. Renewable energy sources can be a solution to deal with several problems – not only for farming communities but for humanity as a whole.

Energy is crucial to sustainable development and poverty reduction, and the lack of electricity is a major constraint to economic growth and increased welfare. Farmer’s challenge in dealing with a reliable energy source required for farm operations, is often underestimated. Renewable energy sources can make an important contribution for farming household in terms of providing timely irrigation, small scale post harvest processes like threshing, crop drying, hulling or large-scale agro-processing activities. In the agriculture sector, direct demand for electricity is likely to continue to be driven by irrigation. The agricultural sector is the second largest consumer of diesel in India. Among 30 million conventional agricultural pumps in India, ten million run on diesel. Therefore, harnessing solar energy for irrigation is crucial to enable ‘diesel free’ farms. (Wase Khalid, p.13).

India has considerable experience and is home to several innovations.  In this issue, we present some of the inspiring experiences of individuals, entrepreneurs, non-governmental agencies, and development practitioners in providing access to clean energy to the poor in rural areas, especially farmers. The cases presented in this issue primarily cover experiences related to providing access to two sources of renewable energy—solar and bio-energy – to meet the energy needs in farming and off farming activities.

Innovations on the ground

Community Solar Irrigation Model (CSIM) was developed by Kalike Trust in Yadgir district in Karnataka. Apart from helping install solar pumps, the organisation focused on holistic development by promoting multi crop layering and improved soil and water conservation practices. Instead of limiting it to individual level, the programme aimed at fostering community ownership and benefit.  Lead farmers (who installed the solar pump) provided water to fellow farmers for at least two crops in a year on a paid service basis to meet loan repayments. This has resulted in increased cropping area and better incomes. (Arunkumar Shivray, p.32).

GERES developed an Improved Green House (IGH) for Ladakh farmers to protect crops from freezing. Farmers were incurring losses as crops died owing to freezing cold temperatures.  With Ladakh having clear sunny days for almost 300 days in a year, GERES developed an IGH (improved greenhouse) to maximize the capture of solar energy during the day, minimize the heat loss at night, and thus prevent plants from dying due to freezing. A wide variety of vegetables are grown in the greenhouses, with people consuming more frequently fresh vegetables and sharing with 9 more families. (p.27).

S4S, has worked with more than 1000 women in setting up solar dehydration unit. The procured vegetables are then given out to women agri entrepreneurs who convert fresh vegetables into dehydrated products. The dehydrated vegetables are graded, sorted and marketed to wide range of customers. These initiatives, besides minimising harmful emissions, has improved livelihoods and has also created enterpreneurs.(Levine Lawrence, p.6)

In Bangladesh, PRAN, one of Bangladesh’ largest food processing companies has offered Off-grid clean energy solutions for rural milk collection centres. Through solar photovoltaics installations and solar water heaters at four centres, provides 95% of the electricity for these centres, besides cutting downtime to zero. The initiative improved income reliability for the dairy farmers producing milk for PRAN. (REEEP, p.10).

A livestock farmer in Karnataka is producing sufficient fodder for his livestock by using a solar powered hydroponics system. Besides being based on a soil-less farming technique, requiring minimal amount of water, the unit makes it highly suitable for off-grid areas. (Arunkumar Shivray, p.32)

Biomass is yet another source of energy that is being tried out to meet the growing energy needs. A project by BERI (Biomass Energy for Rural India) in Tumkur, Karnataka, focuses on bioenergy technologies to reduce GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions and promoting sustainable approaches to meet rural energy needs (p.27). The bioelectricity produced makes use of the biomass coming from tree plantations raised to support the biomass requirements of the power plants.

Cowdung is yet another resource which can be used for biogas generation. Urban diaries generate a lot of cowdung which when left unutilised could lead to enormous problems to the drainages and to the people living around. For example, in Jammu, the cowdung was utilised for biogas generation. Besides biogas, other products like non-synthetic paints and briquettes could also be prepared. (Kumar and Singh, p.19).

Many benefits, some concerns

The inspiring cases in this issue while indicating innovative solutions also bring out certain lessons and some concerns.

With the kind of energy demands in India, solar powered systems would be a good and suitable alternative for helping farmers as a reliable energy source. Invariably, these technologies create tremendous savings in terms of reduced carbon footprint. For instance, by use of photovoltaics, the GHG emissions from the centres have been reduced to close to zero and PRAN saves an  estimated USD 17,000 per year in electricity and diesel costs (REEEP, p.10). Greenhouses in Ladakh save about 460 tonnes of carbon emissions per year. (p.27). On the other hand, while biomass could be a source of energy, there are several concerns about the use of biomass for biofuels, particularly at scale. Un-regulated production of biofuels threatens food security and damage to the environment and land may be diverted to non-food production purposes.

Renewable energy adoption invariably leads to gainful employment to locals and offer better livelihoods – as is the case with greenhouses, cooking stoves, and plethora of new village level committees and shared ownership.  However, to have its impact on the environment and livelihoods, there is a need to upscale the renewable energy models. To upscale any innovation, the convergence and collaboration with diverse stakeholders is the key. A couple of experiences illustrate how diverse agencies like the community organisations, NGOs, Government, panchayat institutions, private entrepreneurs etc., together have achieved remarkable success on the ground. Networks like Clean Energy Access Network (CLEAN) is one shining example.

There is a need to be conscious about more inclusive development, while trying to promote renewable energy on a wider scale. For instance, thrust to promote micro solar pumps is necessary which are suitable for small holder farming majority enable ‘diesel free’ farms (Wase Khalid, p.13). Besides heavily subsidized high capacity pumps, both national and state schemes should include micro solar pumps in existing schemes and recommend pump sizes to farmers in line with their needs. Only then the dream of making agricultural sector diesel-free by 2024, as announced by the Ministry of Power, Government of India, could become a reality.

Recently Published Articles


Farm Women - Breaking barriers Rural women traditionally have been entrepreneurial. Women as a part of their...


Farmer Producer Organisations Small holders face three major challenges – climate, markets and lack of suitable...


Women and Agroecology With growing rural to urban migration by men, there is ‘feminisation’ of agriculture sector,...


Call for articles

Share your valuable experience too

Share This