SWIFT_Team photo_Addis

CABI has teamed-up with a cross-sector consortium to help estimate demand for small-scale hydropower and solar mini-grids that could power irrigation systems to help ensure greater food production in a remote region of Ethiopia.

The project, funded through Innovate UK Energy Catalyst Round 9, will see LENKÉ: Space & Water Solutions Ltd, Crop Health & Protection (CHAP), Arba Minch University and CABI share their expertise in digital technology to help farmers grow healthier and more profitable crops.

The project will be targeted towards Garda Marta, Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region, a community based 140km from Arba Minch town but, if successful, could be spread to other parts of Ethiopia and Africa.

By utilising LENKÉ: Space & Water Solutions’ state-of-the-art technology, SWIFT (Soil Water Index Forecast Technology), the partners plan to address one of the challenges of providing electricity to rural communities to aid irrigation of the soil.

In Ethiopia, rural communities make up over 70% of the population yet currently have less than 20% energy access compared to urban areas. The need is accentuated by the current energy need with increasing fossil fuel costs crippling the use of stand-alone diesel generators used for irrigating for crop production.

This, coupled with extreme drought, has made it near impossible for many farmers to grow and harvest crops, resulting in significant food insecurity in the area and many other parts of Ethiopia. The challenge is also compounded by farmers trying to mitigate a range of potentially devastating crop pests and diseases.

One of the difficulties of providing electricity to rural communities is estimating the energy demand for the likes of irrigation. For mini-grid developers and renewable energy providers, having access to accurate demand forecasting technology is critical to avoiding under or over investments.

The project will focus on estimating energy demand for small-scale hydro-power and solar mini-grids that would power irrigation systems in rural areas. SWIFT is developed by modelling a combination of satellite, climate and statistical data to predict soil moisture concentration at different soil depths.

Dr Negussie Efa, Scientist and Country Programmes Manager, who is based at CABI’s regional centre for Africa in Nairobi, said, “The project aligns very well with government’s aspiration and plan to mitigate challenges related to reliance of the agricultural sector on rainfall, as well as complements the green economy development efforts of the country.

“It will be piloted among a farming community who have been experiencing frequent crop failure due to shortage of rain and are in dire need of interventions that promote affordable energy sources and irrigation technologies.

“It is my sincere belief that bringing in international and local expertise and experience and a multidisciplinary team of experts will undoubtedly lead the project to a great success. The lessons and experiences from the pilot area have great potential to be scaled up and out to other regions or the country.”


Members of the SWIFT consortium during a field visit to one of the sites that will benefit from the project (Credit: CHAP).

Dr Jenna Ross OBE, Senior International Business Development Manager for UK Agri-Tech Centre CHAP, said the project offers a “game-changing solution that will improve energy and food security in Ethiopia.”

She said, “Historically, farmers in the area have used diesel pumps to drive irrigation, however, due to the current energy need and extreme droughts, have been unable to afford this. The impact of this is significant, with many farmers unable to harvest their crops for the last six seasons leading to sever food insecurity.”

CEO of LENKÉ, Dr Lensa Jotte, said earth observation data will be used to identify, plan and monitor mini-grid installation.

“The upscaled SWIFT will act as a powerful tool within the growing Ethiopian energy market in order to de-risk mini-grid investment in communities,” she said.

Beyene Feye, an Associate Researcher at the Renewable Energy Technology Research Center, Arba Minch University, said the adoption of renewable energy sources such as small/mini-hydro, wind, and solar are identified as eco-friendly energy sources, and can minimize the impact on the environment.

He further stressed that the project will contribute a significant role in response to the UN Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger and access to affordable energy.

The SWIFT project team has already visited one of the sites selected and has held discussions with the local communities and officials. The talks confirmed the suitability of the site and the appetite for the development initiative amongst those who will benefit from it.


Additional information

Main image: The SWIFT consortium who met to discuss the implementation of the project to power irrigation systems and help ensure greater food production in a remote region of Ethiopia (Credit: CHAP).

CHAP published a press release in relation to this story which can be read here.