End Energy Poverty/ Field Note

Improving Smallholder Livelihoods Through Solar Irrigation in Ethiopia

Agriculture accounts for 40% of Ethiopia’s GDP, employing about three-quarters of the country’s workforce. Three quarters of farmers are smallholders who work on farms of about 2 acres, earning $707 per year on average.

Less than 5% of Ethiopia’s cultivated land is irrigated, while more than 13 million hectares of land (11%) are suitable for solar irrigated agriculture. Solar irrigation could improve yields, enhance crop and water productivity, and reduce the time and physical burden of farming compared to manual irrigation. Solar irrigation pumps are also longer lasting, more efficient, and cheaper to operate than petrol-powered pumps.

A $2.1 billion investment would enable the deployment of 1.4 million 300-400W solar-powered irrigation pumps. In total this would bring solar irrigation to 1.2 million smallholder farmers.

Replacing 50% of petrol-powered systems (installing 800,000 solar water pumps) will cumulatively eliminate production of 1.1 million tons of CO2 and save $404 million on petrol costs for farmers by 2030, while 2.2 million smallholder farmers jobs and livelihoods will be improved. This would result in a $7.1 billion increase in cumulative value of crops produced by 2030. Solar irrigation could lift more than 1 million people out of poverty and raise Ethiopia’s GDP by $203.5 million. Further, women farmers produce and earn at least 10% less per hectare than male farmers. Solar irrigation can help close this gap.

SunCulture, which is operating across Kenya and Ethiopia, is illustrating what is possible in practice. It has pioneered a “Pay-As-You-Grow” business model to make 310 W solar panels and a submersible pump that can support an acre of irrigation and is affordable for smallholder farmers. SunCulture systems can increase income up to ten times and yields up to 5 times for farmers, while saving them 17 hours per week.


This case study is an excerpt from the report “Transforming a Billion Lives: The Job Creation Potential from a Green Power Transition in the Energy-Poor World”. Learn more about the findings by downloading the full report below.

  • Report

    Transforming a Billion Lives: The Job Creation Potential from a Green Power Transition in the Energy Poor World

    In “Transforming a Billion Lives: The Job Creation Potential From a Green Power Transition in the Energy-Poor World”, we estimate the job creation that would flow through tapping into the enormous growth potential of clean and distributed energies to end energy poverty to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 by 2030.
    Download PDF

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