Solar Market Gardens as a Tool for Rural Development: Benin
Since 2007, FSE has been evaluating the livelihood and environmental impacts of an effort led by a US-based NGO, the Solar Electrification Light Fund (SELF), to use solar arrays to power irrigation pumps for growing high-valued crops in the dry season (solar market gardens) in Northern Benin. We found that photovoltaic technology yields substantial (and significant) benefits in the form of household income and nutritional intake, and is cost-competitive in the medium term, especially where fuel supplies are unreliable.
While there will be hurdles to overcome in taking such a project to scale, we believe that this technology can play a significant role in augmenting regional food security and economic development in the Sudano-Sahel. Our strategy is to provide very careful evaluation of the solar market garden system using a randomized, control-study approach at each phase of scale up. In our view, it is critical that investments in this system pay off in the long run for external donors, farmer groups, and private farmers adopting the technology. We would like to see the "pay off" include more than the concept of private profitability; nutritional improvements, equity between and among households, marketing expansion, and educational impacts are all included in our scope of study.