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How can solar power be used for irrigation in Kenya?

Ahana Shrestha
Practical Action
related country: Kenya
related country: Kenya

A question from Catherine Wyman

I am looking to produce a solar-powered irrigation system for use in countries such as Kenya as we already have a distribution network for solar electricity in this region. The system will be for smallholdings in the region of 1 acre. I am currently working on the assumption of a water source - delivery head of less than 7m and I am unsure of what volume of water I should be aiming to pump as we want to keep the cost down while still making the system worthwhile.

Can you suggest some reasonable parameters to be aiming for and are the initial plot size and head assumptions realistic?

Thank you.

2 Answers


I think you first need to look a it more into the type of crop (rice, millet, casava, maize, matoke, vegetables etc.) you are primarily aiming for, what the distribution system will be (flood irrigation, trenches, sprinklers, drip, manual with a long hose etc.) and last but not least what the primary purpose of the irrigation is supposed to be (full irrigation to open new areas to cultivation/elongation of cropping period/3rd cropping season per year/drought protection/switch to vegetable with higher water consumption etc.)?

Your assumptions sound about right for elongation of season or switch to vegetable production in fields along year-long rivers, but the system should be probably mobile so that it can be moved along the river side to cover multiple fields (sharing between farmers).


Do you have some local farmers you can talk to? So you can ask about their water needs... But before you do a lot of technical sizing, let me ask:

  • What is the "economic equation" you are aiming at?
  • How much are farmers prepared to pay for this solution?
  • Do you have a "theft problem"? These solutions may have a higher value in the "underworld".

You may already have considered these questions, and if so, apologies for hammering on them.