Mali + 4 more

Solar empowerment: Solar-powered solutions promoting climate-resilient livelihoods across five countries

Reliable access to water is critical for farmers everywhere. With rainfall becoming more variable due to climate change, ensuring a sustainable irrigation source helps farmers to adapt to changing climatic conditions and maintain productivity.

Aging diesel-powered water pumps are sometimes used for irrigation in rural developing communities, but have significant downsides. In contrast, solar-powered pumps can have lifespans of up to 25 years, require no cost for fuel or spare parts, and no pollution, emissions, or fuel spills. Introducing solar-powered solutions in Cambodia, Cabo Verde, Mali, Niger and Sudan has significantly improved the quality of life for farmers and those that depend on them and their livelihoods..


For many Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) that are grappling with poverty, unemployment, insufficient infrastructure, civil unrest, and environmental degradation, climate change impacts bring an additional pressure.

In order to address these impacts, the Government of Canada, under the Canada-UNDP Climate Change Adaptation Facility (CCAF) partnered with UNDP and the government to fund and implement climate change adaptation projects in six LDCs and SIDS where the communities are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Target communities in all six CCAF countries are dependent on rainfall for their agricultural systems. The increasingly variable nature of rainfall and general trend towards shorter growing seasons has limited productivity and as a result reduces income, limits livelihood options, and decreases food security.


For Cabo Verde, as rainfed agriculture has become increasingly tenuous due to the drought, the CCAF project introduced solar pumping systems in two of the most vulnerable islands to reduce energy costs and increase reliability of water. These systems are helping improve the climate-resilience of more than 500 farmers, by giving them access to water for irrigating a total of approximately 15 hectares/37 acres of arable land.

Sudan is also experiencing unpredictable rainfall, shorter growing seasons, frequent rainfall extremes, and frequent and intense droughts. It is estimated that over 12 million hectares of rain-fed land in the Kordofan and Darfur states are under threat of drought. In response, the CCAF team in Sudan identified vulnerable areas and installed 15 solar pumps to improve seasonal irrigation schemes.


Across the CCAF project countries, solar pumps are providing more secure and reliable access to water which contribute to improving and diversifying livelihoods.

In Cambodia, the solar pumps have improved access to freshwater for both domestic use and irrigation, and have dramatically increased yields from their home gardens, resulting in higher income and food security.

In the past, 68 year-old Tourn Sakon, from Kulen Cheug village, walked 200m to fetch water from a pond in his village. Now that there are solar pumps to access water close to his house, he can focus his attention on growing and selling his produce which has helped increase his income.

“I expect a 50% increase [900,000 Riels (US$225)] in income this year,” said Mr. Sakon.

Some households supported by the project in Sudan have also used water from solar pumps to irrigate small gardens, which has also led to increased income. In some cases, this project has brought about an increase of about 6,600 USD of revenue, compared to only 660 USD before the intervention..


Solar-powered water pumping systems at watering holes have also been successful in improving climate resilience specifically for women in the agricultural sector.

In Mali, solar pumps have been installed alongside new plots of land dedicated to vegetable gardening, which has been provided to women’s collectives. With reliable access to water, the women in the collective are able to produce many more crops, which contribute to food security of their families as well as generate income when sold on the market.

Similarly, in Sudan, collective plots of land were established for vegetable production, called Jubraka in the local language. These plots are managed by groups typically made up of ten to twelve women and one man. The Jubraka have greatly contributed to diversifying household food crops, particularly in the dry season, which leads to better food security and nutrition. Crops are also sold on the market, increasing women’s earning potential. These additional skills support women’s increasing role as leaders of the community in managing and producing food.

In Cambodia, women are now able to grow vegetable gardens near their homes given the increased access to water from the solar pumps. In addition, the water user groups formed to manage these water resources have included women in leadership positions. This has led to positive changes in gender dynamics at the household level, such as reduced tensions between women and men, more shared decision-making at household level and increased skills in water management for women.


Solar pumps save countless hours that used to be spent fetching water for daily household needs. Those tasked with water collection, usually women or children, they have brought about improvements in health and hygiene, education, and increased revenues from other livelihoods.

In Cabo Verde, Ms. Filomena F., a widow in Órgãos Pequeno settlement on Santiago Island and head of a nine-member household, remembers: “Whoever gets there first gets the water,” she says. “So I used to go there around midnight and sleep there, in order to be the first to draw water from the well.” Now that solar pumps have been installed, she doesn’t have to spend so much time waiting by the well, and doesn’t have to contend with the social tensions surrounding water scarcity in the dry season.

In Sudan, 15 solar powered pumping stations have been installed in four states. One immediate benefit of this is a reduction in time and effort expended by women and children – many of whom previously had to travel for over 5km daily to collect water.

Children, in particular, are spending more time at school since they no longer have to walk to fetch water daily.

“Now I am no longer skipping my classes because the water problem is now solved,” said Badr Eldin, 9 year old from Siraj Alnour.

Additional time- and labor-saving solar technologies, like multifunctional platforms, have been introduced in Mali and Niger.

Under the CCAF project in Mali, four villages were equipped with solar-powered multifunctional platforms maintained and managed by women‘s associations who mill and husk the grains for cooking, and selling on the market.

“The arrival of the platform is welcomed in our village,” said Fatoumata Diarra, head of the women’s collective. “…[T]his platform eases our work and gives us more time to devote ourselves to other activities, such as trading or gardening.”

These activities provide an alternative income source when the cash crops suffer. Processing units composed of mills and huskers were also installed in several communities in Niger, with cascading positive effects on women‘s time and earning capacity.


Solar powered water supply systems can have multiplier effects on the surrounding communities. People have more time and energy for farming, yields go up, and costs have come down. Initial assessments suggest a 15% internal rate of return, which means that the initial investments in solar pumps can be paid back within seven years. Community user groups are already using savings on water and power fees to fund loans to members for productivity enhancement and livelihood diversification, spurring a virtuous cycle of environmental sustainability and economic growth.


All six countries participating in the global Canada-UNDP Climate Change Adaptation Facility aim to strengthen resilience in the agricultural and water sectors, with an emphasis on gender-sensitive approaches. The CCAF supports documentation of results and sharing lessons learned.

For more information on CCAF work, visit