SunCulture

How a Kenyan company is helping farmers with irrigation

The challenge

About two-thirds of people living in rural areas in developing countries live off smallholder farming.  They have limited access to markets and inputs, and they are exposed to constant risks. The yields of African smallholder farmers trail world averages by about 50 per cent, which means that Africa contributes to global agriculture output below its potential. Despite all of these constraints, they still manage to produce food both for themselves and for substantial part of the urban population.

One of the key challenges for smallholder farmers in many regions is access to water. In Kenya, for example, only 3 per cent of Kenyan farmers use the irrigation techniques needed to become more productive.

The action

In 2017, we invested in SunCulture through Energy Access Ventures Fund, a venture capital fund focusing on the access to the energy market in Sub Saharan Africa.

SunCulture provides solar-powered irrigation solutions for African farmers. They currently operate in East Africa and planning to expand to other regions.  The company aims to be a ‘one-stop shop’ for farmers, supporting them with the tools, knowledge and finance to grow their businesses. Technicians and agronomists trained by SunCulture also provide on-farm training, soil analysis and agronomy support by mobile phone available anywhere in Kenya.

In 2017, SunCulture launched the RainMaker, a solar-powered water pump that can lift 6,000 litres of water per day and can pump from wells up to 100 metres deep, compared to current market alternatives that draw from 10 metres deep, and it’s 90 per cent less expensive than the company’s previous product. The company provides a pay-as-you-go financing model to make the pump even more affordable. Using energy from a portable 120-watt solar panel and battery bank, the RainMaker is able to pump enough water to irrigate a half-hectare farm and fulfil household water needs like drinking, cooking and cleaning.

“I have water all the time. Even during the dry season
I can plant crops as I wait for the rains to come.”

The result

“I have seen great increase in fact I have managed to plant cucumbers in extra patch of land, something I could not do before I had the pump.”

In late 2017 we worked with Acumen Lean Data – a company which provides insight data on social enterprises – to better understand the impact SunCulture was creating and who was benefitting from it. The results of the survey showed that farmers’ lives were affected in several ways.

For example, the RainMaker increases the harvests and incomes of local farmers, enabling them to save time and effort they used to spend on getting water. The team found that, as well as being used to irrigate farms, the product can be used to support livestock, and meet household water needs like cooking and cleaning.

In total, the data found that farmers were saving 17 hours per week from no longer moving around 20 litre jerry cans, while collecting water from wells, boreholes or communal rivers and lakes. They now use that time for more productive uses and to tend to family needs.

Before purchasing the RainMaker, half of customers used a fuel pump or a generator for water extraction. Electric water pumps are not viable without a connection to the grid, so farmers mostly used diesel, which made irrigation not just expensive, but an unaffordable option for many farmers.

Although some customers had only been using RainMaker for a few months, half have already reported an increase in their farm’s productivity as a result. Farmers who had been using it longer reported an average increase in crop yield of 300 per cent per year.

“I save a lot of cash that I initially spent on buying petrol for pumping water.”

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