PROJECT UPDATE: The eight new Solar Market Gardens™ are up and running, and we’ve also completed the installation of solar systems for two schools and a health center in each of our two pilot villages, Dunkassa and Bessassi. Soon, we will also be powering a micro-enterprise center, street lights and a drinking water distribution system in each of the villages.
December 2012 Update: The eight new Solar Market Gardens™ we are installing in Benin are nearing completion! We have finished constructing the reservoirs that will store the water used to irrigate the fields, installed solar systems at four sites, and set-up the panel support structures at the four remaining sites. ADESCA, our local partner in Benin, recently hired two agriculture experts to help ensure the productivity of the fields and two solar technicians who will be responsible for the sustainability of our systems. To support their work, we’ll be conducting an intensive operations and maintenance training session for them in the coming weeks.
We’re scheduled to install the drip irrigation systems at all of the sites in December and January, and will start planting the fields shortly thereafter!
In Benin, as in many other parts of Africa that experience a prolonged dry season, solar energy has an enormous, yet largely untapped, potential to increase food security by providing a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to pump water for irrigation from nearby rivers and underground aquifers.
In partnership with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and Association pour le Developpement Economique Social et Culturel de Kalalé (ADESCA), SELF has installed three of its Solar Market Gardens™ (SMG), an innovative, unique solar-powered drip irrigation system, for women farming collectives in Dunkassa and Bessassi, two villages in the arid, northern part of the country. Since then, residents have witnessed the transformative power that this simple and effective technology can have on their lives, as it has resulted in a significant increase in food security among the women farmers who are now able to grow high-value fruits and vegetables year-round.
A two-year study conducted by Stanford University’s Program on Food Security and the Environment department and published in 2010 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that SELF’s SMG model, “significantly augments both household income and nutritional intake, particularly during the dry season, and is cost effective compared to alternative technologies.” According to the study, each garden has supplied nearly two tons of produce per month; about 20 percent is kept for home consumption and the balance is sold at market, earning an extra $7.50 per week for each woman farmer selling fresh produce.
Not only has nutrition improved in Dunkassa and Bessassi, but income levels have also risen, helping to pay for other economic development initiatives, school fees, and medical treatment. It is during the six-month dry season that the use of these systems has had the greatest impact. By virtue of their new found ability to pump water from rivers and underground aquifers, the women in Dunkassa and Bessassi have succeeded in breaking free from their historical dependency on rain-fed agriculture.
In addition to the SMGs, SELF has also installed three solar-powered community water wells. A survey of the region found that 58 percent of the children under the age of five in Benin suffer from chronic diarrhea, and that the communities typically only had access to contaminated or inconsistent water supplies. Each well will now provide the families in Dunkassa and Bessassi with safe, clean drinking water year-round.
SELF continues to implement its Whole Village Development Model in Benin with its partners and supporters, including a recent grant from National Geographic’s “Great Energy Challenge” program. By the end of this year, we will have installed solar power systems for health clinics, schools and community centers.