Sustainable Agriculture: Unlocking the Potential of Renewable Energy

Arvind Rana
Arvind Rana

With rampant globalization, and an increase in the human population, resources are being taxed; these resources include infrastructure, natural resources, energy sources, and the list goes on.

However, solutions for the conservation of the environment have been made public, far and wide, the effective and timely application of these solutions is vital. For this, not only are awareness and the practicality but also the sustainability and cost-effectiveness of the solutions are important.

As far as India goes, approximately 70 per cent of the population resides in rural areas and involved in the primary sector of the Indian economy; agriculture. This emphasizes the importance and use of renewable sources of energy, among other sustainable agricultural practices. Out of the total water consumption of human beings, 93 per cent is used for irrigation. Majority of this water is extracted groundwater which requires energy input. In off-grid areas, the major energy input for irrigation is diesel pumps which attract high operating and maintenance cost increasing the cost of cultivation beyond threshold levels, especially for small and marginal farmers.

Even two-third of the grid energy is generated by non-sustainable fossil fuel; Coal. Both energy inputs, grid and diesel leave high carbon footprints behind. Grid and diesel operated pumps are not only non-eco-friendly but also creates huge pressure on the nation’s economy. The government spends approximately USD 6 billion in a year on subsidizing these energy inputs (Hyeon-Sook Shim, Global Green Growth Institute). Because of subsidized prices, farmers do not value the energy inputs as well as the extracted groundwater.

The GOI is promoting the use of solar-powered irrigation pumps but there are some barriers faced by small and marginal farmers to adopt these. The high initial cost of a solar pump is the biggest challenge to deal with. Despite the initiatives are taken by the government to provide subsidy on the capital cost through various schemes and programs, the pace of adoption is still slow. The main reason has been the complex modality of availing these subsidies.

Most of the subsidies under the National solar mission are credit-linked which means farmers must take a loan from the financial institutions; mainly banks and subsidy are parked in the loan account. This complexity often creates hurdles for small and marginal farmers as either they are defaulters of the banks (crop loans, equipment loans etc) or they are asked to mortgage their land, which they are not willing to do. Sometimes, local rural branches deny the loans for the scheme showing unawareness about the scheme or the directives. The need of the hour is to design farmer-friendly policies to foster the growth of the sector.

The service providers are the important stakeholders in this ecosystem and are coming up with different models simplifying the process to afford solar irrigation pumps on community bases such as service-based delivery model or cluster-based mini-grid cum irrigation models. These models run on the principles of creating incentives for all stakeholders in the eco-system and maximize energy and water use efficiency.

These models have shown potential and initial success in some pockets in Bihar and Gujarat but still, there are miles to go for large scale adoption. Use of renewable energy is the key to get clean, sustainable and affordable energy inputs for the farming sector. The pace of using renewable energy in agriculture is increasing but at a slow pace. The Indian government is also putting efforts to replace the conventional energy sources with renewable energy sources by swapping 26 million diesel pumps with solar pumps for irrigation.

This swapping potential of solar-powered irrigation pumps may be the largest sector for solar application in India. This potential of the sector not only will impact the environment, economy and the society but also has more developmental aspects. It will provide a boost to agriculture produce.

The most promising and positive aspect of this sectoral growth is that it has the potential to create new business and job creation opportunities in rural India contributing to the increased incomes and rural livelihoods. All that is needed to come up with geographically, economically and socially suited innovative models which have high replicability.

It recalls a famous quote by Thomas Edison way back in 1931: “I had put my money on the sun and solar energy; what a source of power. I hope we do not have to wait till oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” Indeed, food-for-thought.

Arvind Rana
Program Lead - Sustainable Agriculture Development
Subhash Chandra Foundation
+91-120-7153003, +91-9953166468,

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