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How Electricity Could Transform Farming in India

Ranjit is a farmer who owns land in Bharayen village in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh, where he sows sugarcane, wheat, and rice crops, some of which he sells in the region. He, his wife, and their three children are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, a way of life that is common for many inhabitants of Uttar Pradesh—farming makes up one of the largest parts of the state’s economy.

To irrigate his land, Ranjit depends primarily on the river that flows near his fields. But when the river dries up, he resorts to using a diesel-powered irrigation pump to water the land, which stretches as far as the eye can see.

After a hard day's work, rice farmer and DESI Power customer Hirdu Mandal enjoys a refreshing blast of water as it gushes out of the irrigation pump he uses to water his paddy.

While irrigation facilities like these are a necessity in Uttar Pradesh, the government’s central electricity grid does not reach rural parts of the state, which makes it difficult to power the pumps—this is one of the biggest challenges to farming for Ranjit and his counterparts.

“I spend 2,200 rupees (about $35) on diesel every time I want to irrigate my land,” he shared. “I want to switch to electricity so that I can save on operational costs, which are often as much as 700 rupees ($11).”

“What would take seven hours by a diesel pump, takes three hours with the electric pump.”

Through Smart Power for Rural Development, The Rockefeller Foundation is supporting pilot programs in Uttar Pradesh that would help Ranjit achieve this goal. The initiative brings together private energy service companies, local NGOs, and local communities, with the aim of constructing solar and biomass power plants that can provide cleaner and more reliable energy to poor communities.

In the neighboring Bihar state, where Smart Power has been operating since 2010, farmers are already seeing the benefits of switching to electric irrigation methods. “What would take seven hours by a diesel pump, takes three hours with the electric pump,” said Hirdalala Mandal, a rice farmer. The electric pump’s water yield is strong, enabling him to irrigate twice as fast and get the most out of his 60 acres of land.

As Smart Power is piloted in more states, the Foundation and its partners hopes to address serious gaps in economic development in rural India. As for Ranjit: he’s excited that he’ll be able to access electricity—and potentially transform his business—in the very near future.

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