As various parts of the country are facing excruciating famine, ministry of energy and solar dealers, have partnered to promote agriculture production through using solar for irrigation.
Through their umbrella body Uganda Solar Energy Association (USEA), solar dealers say, areas that are now experiencing famine have not embraced using solar to pump water for irrigating crops that are drying in gardens at infancy.
Amos Tamusuza, the principal energy officer at renewable energy department at the ministry of energy, said if people understand that investment in solar is a one-off expense compared to using electricity and engine pumps where one incurs regular costs on repairing, servicing and fuelling, then the former would be a better option.
“People are used to generators. Sunshine is for free. Yes, the equipment might be expensive as of now. But solar you buy once. Solar you will not buy daily fuel. Money you spent on fuel like now that prices have escalated, you will realise solar is cheaper. We are doing much to educate people about solar,” Tamusuza said.
Demonstration sites, according to Tamusuza, have been set up in areas of Kayunga at Kangulumira and one for drying coffee in Kasese. These sites as Tamusuza expounds are used for demonstrating how can be used to dry harvested crops. They are also used teaching farmers how water for irrigation can be pumped.
“In Kasese, the demonstration site is being used to dry coffee. It takes about 7 days to dry coffee. We are going in schools and other places providing solar for light and people are saving. We encourage people to use solar to pump water. Our crops are drying because we people haven’t embraced solar,” Tamusuza adds.
It is reported that more than 100 people have succumbed to famine in Karamoja area. Other places such as Lango and West Nile sub-regions are experiencing dry spells. In districts like Bukomansimbi and Lwengo, coffee trees are drying up and food crops have been reduced to dry grass.
Victor Kazimiri one of the new members of USEA board explains that buying a fuel water pump that uses diesel or petrol costs about Shillings 3 million. But one to install a solar project that would irrigate at least five acres costs about Shillings 10 million and that expense will never be incurred again.
Kazimiri explains that people look at Shillings 3 million for a fuel pump as being cheaper but they forget that they will be incurring regular fuel and servicing expenses. Like Tamusuza, Kazimiri says there is need to educate people that solar is very cheaper than electricity and fuel run machines.
“The challenge has been because we look at subsistence farming. We have not embraced agriculture as an economic activity. We shall show people the importance of solar irrigation mechanism. Engine pump uses petrol or diesel costs Shillings 3 million. And if you go on side of solar 10 million to buy a solar powered irrigation kit. It is three times costly compared to fuel pump but you buy once and there is no daily cost,” Kazimiri explains.
Ismail Muyinda, USEA project director, explains that the membership has grown from 45 to 227 since 2016 when it started. Muyinda adds that USEA has helped light many homes especially in rural areas where hydro-power hasn’t reached. People, according to Muyinda, has been accessing cheaper solar panels through their exhibitions that have been held in areas like Mbale, Masaka and Gulu.