Solar energy models for sustainable farming

Sufficient and timely availability of water is essential to irrigate crops during critical stages of crop growth. This shall ensure improved farm productivity and incomes. However, a critical prerequisite is a reliable energy-based system which enables timely extraction and distribution of water supply. Solar models have shown the way.

In rural areas, the farm’s energy needs are supported by public distributed electricity which supports diverse appliances. Uncertainties like power cuts, supply with dangerous fluctuations resulting in burning out and damaging motors, are challenges the farmers face. This is in addition to vagaries of weather and unpredictable markets. Even when they have enough ground water too, farmers are unable to irrigate their entire land, owing to irregular power supplies.

Solar energy has ensured timely irrigation to crops

To mitigate these challenges, Kalike Livelihoods team with the support of Sustain Plus, Selco and Villgro Foundation, conceptualized and implemented models based on renewable energy and promoted sustainable agriculture practices. Motivated by the keenness of communities and backed by suitable geography, the Trust implemented alternative solar powered project models.

The overall purpose was to help farmers in multiple ways.

 1) Ensuring better access to water supply to enhance crop diversity and productivity by installing reliable solar models

 2) Exploring development of new enterprises like solar operated hydroponics for better fodder access and Panchagavya units for improved nutrient management to crops

 3) Promoting community benefit sharing mechanisms between Lead farmer and fellow farmers

4) Enabling Lead farmer to install the model with partial financial support as well as by linking with banks for availing loan.

Following are some of the examples.

1.Community Solar Irrigation Model (CSIM 5 HP model) for efficient utilization of water and enhancing incomes

The model was planned and implemented holistically by focusing on solar pump installation, multi crop layering, soil and water conservation practices and convergence with government line departments.

The first measure was to install solar pumps to ensure timely irrigation and to expand the net irrigated area. Gradually, the farmer was trained and guided to adopt Multi–crop layering by introduction of multiple crops in the same field to increase farmer’s incomes. Simultaneously, the farmer was guided to adopt soil and water conservation measures through installation of micro irrigation systems and suitable NRM measures, besides avoiding the water intensive crops. Lastly, to enable convergence, farmer was linked with government line departments to avail suitable government schemes / facilities on priority basis for solar energy application.

A community-based model was designed in such a way that each solar pump installed, served 4 farmers covering 8-10 acres of land.  The farmers who installed the solar pump is called lead farmer and he has to provide water to 3 fellow farmers which is mandatory. The terms of water service is based purely on internal commitment between the lead and fellow farmers. Fellow farmers may pay for the service in monetary terms or in kind (sharing crop harvest) as per mutual understanding. This model also helps the lead farmer to repay his loan against solar pump investment.

Individual solar pump design is based on the results from village aquifer mapping and technical site survey done by the engineers/professionals. In October 2020, on a pilot basis, a community solar irrigation model with 3 HP pump was installed. Pump can be operated from 7am to 5pm with minimum temperature of 21o C. The pressure from the pump is highly sufficient for operating the drip system and sprinklers.

A total of 125 such  CSIM units have been installed in Yadgir, Gurmitkal and Wadigera blocks of Yadgir district. The total installation cost is Rs. 3,60,000 per unit, of which the contribution from the project is Rs.1,49,000. Farmers contributed Rs. 36,000 and a loan component of Rs. 1,75,000 was facilitated through the bank. The loan is to be repaid over a period of 5 years in ten installments of Rs. 24,000 each every six months once. Financial support was provided by Sustain plus Foundation, through a multi-stakeholder’s approach involving Suco Bank and SBI. After-sales services are ensured for 5 years from the day of installation which covers minor/major repairs within 48 hours and replacement of any part in case of damage with insurance coverage. And this is being taken up by Kadam Agri. Pvt Ltd., Bangalore.

The model backed by sound technical specifications  was installed on lead farmer’s farm based on irrigation requirements and willingness to make investment. Farmers identified in the group for sharing were those who have their land adjacent to the water pump or within the catchment area which the pump can cater to. Generally, an operator nominated within the group kept track of the usage of solar pump by different members and a service charge is levied based on the quantum of water delivered to various members.

Box 2: Inspiring cases

Venkatesh Rayappa of Belagera village Yadgir has been involved in farming since decades. He owns 6 acres of land. He grows green gram, groundnut, paddy and leafy vegetables. After attending training conducted by Kalike Tata Trusts, he installed the solar pump irrigation system, learnt different techniques in farming guided by field co-ordinators of the project. Venkatesh Rayappa is the first one to take up the initiative. The solar pump is switched on for 6-7 hours (his six acres) and water is shared with other farmers on a daily basis. After the solar pump installation, the financial status of his family got better. He says, ‘providing crops with timely irrigation resulted in  30-40% increase in the crop yield’. Through water sharing with fellow farmers on 7 acres of land, he earns Rs.6,500/acre which is additional source of income.

 Ramalingappa owns 8 acres of land. He owns a borewell with 5hp motor. Before installation, during Kharif and Rabi season, he cultivated groundnut and cotton. Frequent power cuts and fluctuations were faced by him in which motor got damaged. With solar pumps, he diversified crop cultivation, irrigating them, whenever needed. He started growing leafy vegetables, onion, radish, chilli, okra, gourds and watermelons. For home consumption he grows organic paddy in Kharif.  Before installing the solar model, his yearly earnings were Rs. 3,00,000/-. With this arrangement, he earns around Rupees 6 lakhs. He also earns additionally from sharing water with the adjacent farmers. He irrigates 8 acres of his own farm while sharing to support 4 acres for fellow farmers.

 Irappa Bhemmanna of Balichakra village of Yadgir taluk, a practicing farmer since three decades, owns 6 acres of land. After solar installation, in December 2020, he started growing horticulture crops i.e., chillies, brinjal, tomato, watermelon etc. Irappa says, “Easy management of power usage, continuous supply of uninterrupted power makes him 100% satisfied with installation of solar powered irrigation system on his farm”. During summer he cultivated watermelon in 4.6 acres of land which fetched him an income of Rupees 1.4 lakhs.  In 0.6 acres of land, he has grown Cucumber and okra with net profit of Rs. 25,000/-. In Rabi he cultivates chilli fetching him Rs. 45,000/- and onion with an income of Rs. 25,000/-. Six Solar traps were installed on his farm with the support of Horticulture department. He installed insect traps on his farm. Pests are controlled naturally without spraying any chemicals. Water sharing is done with 3 fellow farmers. As agreed among them, one quarter of the profit of the selling price of the crops amount was given to Irappa by other farmers who shared water.

Continuous hand holding and technical support was done by Kalike-Tata Trusts, on a daily basis. To enable farmers to get more income from diversified cropping through sustainable agriculture practices, the project team facilitated training programs with Agriculture Department, Agriculture Universities, KVKs and other prime institutions.  Linkages were established with line departments to ensure timely supply of inputs and services.

It has been observed that there is a huge expansion in the area under irrigation resulting in improved income for farmers. Besides the lead farmers who installed the solar model, fellow farmers have also benefitted from irrigation supported multiple cropping. (See Box 2).

2) Solar powered hydroponic unit for cultivating green fodder

 In rural communities, farmer struggles a lot to get appropriate and sufficient fodder for his livestock which include goats, buffaloes, cows, ox etc.  The situation was more acute during quarantine period. Serious fodder shortage was experienced to meet the feed needs, especially of Sirohi breeds. High cost fodder was purchased and transported at additional cost to maintain them.

To address this issue a pilot project was initiated in Gondenoor and Joladadgi villages of Wadigera Yadgir. Mr. Piddappa and Mr. Rajasekhar Patil, involved in farming for more than 15 years, were identified for the experiment.

The pilot project included Solar panel operated hydroponic system along with five Sirohi breed goats for rearing and breeding. The systems are essentially energy-efficient. Based on a soil-less farming technique, this unit requires a minimal amount of water. It runs on solar energy that makes it highly suitable for off-grid areas. The highlight of the product is its design and the time taken to generate fodder. Also, as an enterprise, the sale of fodder could also be conceived in future, as a means of additional income for hydroponic farmers. The system could be utilized for mushroom cultivation too.

 Solar powered fermenter unit: Bulk production of Panchagavya and Jeevamrutha

Another model experimented by the project is Solar powered fermenter unit for preparing Panchagavya and Jeevamrutha.

Since the Green Revolution phase, the high cost of cultivation and production of pesticide residue free food has been a big challenge for the farmers. This is especially critical, in the region of Yadgir where more than 80% of farmers are small holders. In small patches farmers grow vegetables and a few high valued horticulture crops like watermelon, which need costly inputs.

Solar powered fermenter is introduced to produce liquid manures like Panchagavya and Jeevamrutha in volumes. The solar energy operated stirrer machine is placed in the drum. The stirrer machine is operated by the solar charged batteries on an hourly basis.  In a day, the stirring is done six times. The process is continued for 10 days. After 10 days, the fermented ingredients are filtered using the connected filter tubes and poured into plastic bottles. Panchagavya is sold to the farmers at Rs.80/liter each, for application to the crop at the time of sowing, flowering, and fruiting stage.


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-based system. Though requiring some primary investment, they are eco-friendly and enable the farmer to get enhanced income in the long run through planned diversification.

Arunkumar Shivaray

Program Manager, Livelihoods

Kalike- Tata Trusts

Sri Laxmi Nivas, Plot No. 14&15,

Behind Balaji Kalayana Mantap

Near Vanakeri Layout

Yadgir, 585201

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