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Developing a supply chain for the solar-steam irrigation pump in Ethiopia


Today in sub-Saharan African, most small-scale farmers who need irrigation source their water through labour intensive methods such as buckets or manual pumps, or with pumps driven by expensive fossil fuels.

Based on the needs of smallholder farmers, iDE, a non-profit organisation helping poor rural households, and the PRACTICA foundation designed a prototype low-cost solar-steam pump suitable for micro-irrigation. In field testing, this Sunflower Pump showed consistent output exceeding the design goal of lifting 2,000 litres/day from a depth of 15 meters.

To facilitate its widespread adoption, it was necessary to overcome farmer scepticism about RE based solutions, demonstrate the solar-steam irrigation pump in real conditions, and develop an efficient and sustainable supply chain for the technology. This project aimed to facilitate the production, distribution and purchase of the solar-steam pump among small-scale farmers in Ethiopia, enabling them to access irrigation water in a low-cost, labour-saving and sustainable manner. It was envisioned to be the first phase of a larger initiative to create a market for low-cost RE and EE technologies in Ethiopia, and eventually throughout Africa.



Ethiopia proved to be a challenging environment for private sector development for several reasons – import regulations, high in-country operation costs, limited manufacturing capacity in terms of facilities and skilled manpower among them. These conditions prevented the establishment of a production facility for the product in Ethiopia itself. Instead, a centralised production unit was set up in Pune in India, with the capacity for bulk production and global distribution. The performance of the pump was improved, and product quality was assured through newly formulated quality standards and testing procedures for quality control.

In Ethiopia, service providers were trained, three pilot units were installed and awareness raising was conducted with a view towards establishing sales and eventually also production in the country in the future.

The project also directly stimulated private sector development with Futurepump Ltd. commencing sales and distribution of the pump on a commercial, for-profit basis in Kenya. By the end of the project 30 pumps had been produced and another 100 were being manufactured. The farmers using the pumps saw increases in crop yield and reported the Sunflower Pump saved them $400 in the first year, compared to traditional diesel pumps.

Despite the unforeseen difficulties and the resulting change in strategy, the project was considered a success. Though the aim to develop a market for solar-steam pumps was not reached in Ethiopia, the first steps towards a global distribution network for the Sunflower Pump were taken through the establishment of a production facility in India and a commercial distribution and service enterprise in Kenya.

REEEP and Futurepump are currently partners in an ongoing project to widen the distribution of solar-powered irrigation pumps in Kenya. Read more about this project here.

Programme Sector
RE & EE (Business & Finance)
2011 - 2013
€ 294,000 including co-funding from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Implementing Agency
IDE - International Development Enterprise
REEEP grant funded by