FAO Regional Office for Near East and North Africa

Solar powered irrigation: climate-friendly, reliable and affordable

FAO assess benefits and risks of green technology in agriculture during Cairo Water Week 2018

Solar powered irrigation system in the Nile Delta.

16 October 2018, Cairo, Egypt – Solar powered irrigation systems are climate-friendly, reliable and affordable but they need to be adequately managed and regulated to avoid the risk of unsustainable water use, said the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations during Cairo Water Week 2018.

In a session on the opportunities and challenges of solar technologies in agriculture, FAO highlighted the water-energy-food nexus and available tools to support climate-smart development.

“Solar powered irrigation can be a very resourceful tool for small-scale family farmers to increase their income and therefore improve their livelihoods and food security,” said Pasquale Steduto, FAO Regional Programme Coordinator for Near East and North Africa (NENA).

FAO’s Water Scarcity Initiative in the Near East and North Africa Region has been giving special focus to the use of solar energy for agricultural irrigation and sustainable development. 

In Egypt’s Nile Delta, the agricultural sector is facing an energy crisis, as increasing electricity demand from urban areas results in frequent shortages and blackouts. As most irrigation canals are below ground level, requiring the use of pumps to lift water to the fields, the energy crisis in turn lead to disruptions in the regular irrigation scheduling of crops, which consequently decreased crop yields.

As the cost of pumping was expected to increase as well, a low-cost alternative source of energy was needed to ensure farmers have a reliable system to pump and irrigate.

FAO intervened and introduced a solar-powered irrigation system in the Nile Delta to lift water from below-ground conduits and irrigate crop fields. Farmers and members of the Water User Association were also trained on the use and maintenance of the system to ensure its continuity.

This green technology reduced the Delta’s agriculture vulnerability to energy supply, shocks and shortages, and water scarcity concerns and the food-water-energy nexus in the Delta was strengthened.

The system reduced the negative environmental impacts, decreased soil pollution from diesel spill-overs and decreased green-house gas emissions.

In light of the project’s success, The Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation is elaborating a plan to scale-up the use of solar energy to all other pumping stations in the Nile Delta. In addition, FAO will carry out assessments of solar energy applications for irrigated agriculture in other countries of the region.

FAO's contribution to Cairo Water Week aims to promote cooperation among NENA countries for the sustainable improvement of agricultural productivity in the context of water scarcity and climatic changes.