Sustainable agriculture has been identified as a critical pillar in the quest for food security. With a rapidly growing human population, expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, there is an urgent need for sustainable ways of producing sufficient, nutritious food for all, while addressing the impact of climate change on agriculture.
As defined, sustainable agriculture generally refers to the production of adequate food without degradation of the environment or increasing the levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs), a major driver of climate change. With agricultural activities said to emit 20 percent of global GHGs, adopting long-term, climate-sensitive farming practices is therefore imperative.
At the same time, there can be no sustainable agriculture without sustainable energy. Energy is a vital input in food production. At the farm level, energy is used to power irrigation systems, water pumps, cooling facilities, drying machines, tractors, and other equipment required for efficient food production.
Basically, sustainable energy means forms of energy that are constantly available with little or no risk of depletion but are also environmentally friendly. A good example is energy from the sun, wind, and heat within the earth (geothermal). These do not pollute the atmosphere, unlike fossil fuels. Various studies have demonstrated that using this renewable resource in irrigation, harvesting, processing, storage, and transportation of food, is an effective method of promoting sustainable farming.
According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), renewable energy along the agricultural value chain can “help improve energy access and security, diversify farm and food processing revenues, avoid food waste, remove dependence on fossil fuels, and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while at the same time building the adaptive capacity of smallholder farmers to withstand climate shocks.”
Solar water pumps and irrigation systems help farmers reduce dependence on rain-fed crops thus boosting farm productivity and transforming livelihoods. Precision irrigation and other novel crop production techniques enable climate-smart agriculture. Post-harvest loss is another challenge confronting farmers, especially in areas with poor infrastructure. Wind or solar-powered coolers and dryers come in handy to prevent the deterioration of farm produce before it gets to market. Energizing farms is also crucial to value addition thus further improving farmers’ incomes and livelihoods.
Sustainable agriculture coupled with sustainable energy is a winning combination. A 2021 publication by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA) reports that the deployment of solar irrigation pumps has increased farmers’ incomes by 50 percent in India, and by one-third in Rwanda, compared to relying on rain.
Despite all these benefits and the fact that they produce more than 70 percent of the food we consume, small-scale farmers face multiple constraints in accessing renewable energy technologies key among them financing given the high initial cost involved. This is where innovative funding models come in to address this challenge critically, enabling farmers to make that critical leap from subsistence to commercial agriculture.
For this reason, Faulu Microfinance Bank has partnered with GIZ to support smallholder farmers in accessing and using solar energy as part of the Sustainable Energy for Smallholder Farmers project being implemented in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda. Initially, 400 farmers in the dairy and horticulture value chains in the six counties of Kirinyaga, Meru, Murang’a, Nakuru, Machakos, and Makueni will benefit from the initiative.
The project will also support the beneficiaries in improving their livelihoods, enhancing resilience to climate change, and boosting productivity. In addition, accelerating renewable energy integration into our agro-systems, targeting the over 7.5 million smallholder farmers in Kenya, is key to ending hunger and securing their future and ability to contribute to the country’s food sufficiency and crucially, creating an inclusive and climate-resilient agriculture sector.
By Julius Ouma, acting CEO, Faulu Microfinance Bank Limited