May 27, 2024, Monday
Nepal 1:37:26 pm

Global Science-Policy Forum on Socially Inclusive Irrigation Systems successfully concludes

The Nepal Weekly
May 6, 2024

The Global Science Policy Forum on Socially Inclusive Irrigation Systems has successfully concluded with the presence of 150 key stakeholders from across the world. The conference covered plenary and parallel sessions by experts around the world with presentations and diverse panel discussions on areas like Groundwater sustainability, adaptation and mitigation, Business models of Solar Irrigation Pumps (SIPS), and scaling up solar irrigation. The sessions were parallelly held on the role of communities in Capacity building, Gender Equity, Social Inclusion, and Designing effective and inclusive policies and policy tools for solar energy transitions on the first and second day of the conference. On the third day, there was a closing session accompanied by a field visit to ICIMOD Living Mountain Lab.

The Global Forum was inaugurated by Minister Shakti Bahadur Basnet, Ministry of Energy, Water Resource and Irrigation on April 24. “The pressing challenge of climate change calls for a need for climate mitigation awareness to end our dependence on fossil fuels and move towards clean and renewable energy. There is a need for low-carbon methods like solar irrigation. Also, the 2023 National Policy aims for economic prosperity climate-adaptive irrigation including solar irrigation,” remarked Minister Basnet.

Climate change is a major challenge globally, and countries like Nepal are facing large-scale climate variability and are exposed to high risk due to low levels of climate readiness. The agriculture sector is particularly vulnerable due to its dependence on weather and climatic conditions. Climate change affects crop yields, livestock, soil, and water resources and in turn, impacts food and livelihood security. Irrigation is a proven strategy to build resilience as it has reduced exposure to changing rainfall patterns, helped improve yields, and enabled diversification of livelihoods. However, access to irrigation particularly for women and marginalized farmers is constrained. In Nepal, 58% of the total cultivated land has access to irrigation facilities.

Keshab Kumar Sharma, Secretary of the Water and Energy Commission Secretariat, Nepal stated that the Co-creation of knowledge with local governments and local stakeholders promotes inclusivity of solar irrigation projects. This will bridge the gap between science and policy. “Women and socio-economically disadvantaged farmers must be at the center of planning.”, said Sharma.

The three-day Global Policy Forum was organized by International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and its partners International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), International Solar Alliance (ISA), Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), as a part of Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) funded project titled Solar Irrigation for Agricultural Resilience in South Asia (SoLAR- SA). It presented unique insights on the effectiveness of solar irrigation as a strategy to sustainably manage water, energy, food, and climate (mitigation and adaptation) interlinkages. It highlighted how governments are using evidence from the field to develop and deploy ambitious policies and programs on solar irrigation to address nationally determined contributions (NDC) commitments while supporting climate-resilient, gender-equitable, and socially inclusive agrarian livelihoods.

In South Asia, irrigation is becoming increasingly energy-intensive; the proliferation of groundwater irrigation is responsible for 11-12% of the region’s agricultural emissions. Solar energy, particularly the use of Solar Irrigation Pumps (SIPs), offers a reliable alternative to erratic power supply and costly and high-emitting diesel pumps. There is emerging evidence to show the transformational potential of SIPS for livelihoods, and agri-food systems and recognize the agency of women and marginalized groups in climate-resilient irrigation for harnessing livelihood opportunities.

Communities from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan that have adopted these systems report higher crop yields, extended growing seasons, and increased income generation. With a consistent water supply, farmers can diversify their crops, improve food security, and enhance their economic well-being. However, the optimism is often truncated by questions around the actual impacts on mitigation and adaptation. Issues of equity and inclusion in access to and control over SIPS remain a systemic challenge to tackle, given the high cost and capacity needed to install and operate SIPS and limited understanding of SIPS from techno-social, institutional and political perspectives. Critically, concerns around the potential for over-extraction of groundwater in vulnerable areas remain high. The replicability and scalability of solar irrigation has therefore not achieved its full potential. “Out of 449 billion cubic metres groundwater resource, 242 billion cubic metre is extracted annually which is 59% of the resource in India” stated Dr. Sunil Kumar Ambast, Chairman, Central Ground Water Board, Government of India. “Hence, progressive interventions need to ensure livelihood stability and sustainability.”

This forum has brought around 150 key stakeholders from across the world to discuss the growing body of work and evidence in South Asia on solar applications in agriculture, particularly bringing together key experiences, insights and promotion of south-south collaboration and scaling up of global ambitions around effective and sustainable use of solar energy in agriculture. Dr. Manohara Khadka, Country Representative, IWMI Nepal, highlighted the benefits of Solar Irrigation for women farmers, “Solar irrigation can support women farmer’s climate resilience capacity and must be inclusive and sustainable.” Munira Sultana, Chairman, SREDA, Government of Bangladesh, highlighted the importance of Solar Irrigation for South Asia, says “Grid connected Solar Irrigation Pumps (SIPs) will create electricity surplus relieving the Government’s pressure to provide electricity. Solar irrigation is very important for the South Asia.”

Dr. Pema Gyamtsho, Director General, ICIMOD highlighted the importance of strategic interventions and investment inflow to pilot successful initiatives and enhance agricultural productivity. He says, “ICIMOD emphasizes the urgent need for modernizing agriculture and implementing solar water systems to ensure food security in the face of climate change challenges.”

The conference was held at Hotel Himalaya, Kathmandu from 24 April to 26 April.