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New initiative builds first solar mini-grid powered large scale irrigation systems in Africa

ETHIOPIA | October 11, 2022 – The Distributed Renewable Energy – Agriculture Modalities (DREAM) initiative will build the first solar mini-grid powered large scale irrigation systems in Africa, providing famers with reliable, affordable, and sustainable irrigation. Today, the initiative begins with the launch of nine renewable energy mini-grids and irrigation systems across Ethiopia.

Partners involved in the project include Ethiopia’s Ministry of Water and Energy, Ministry of Irrigation and Lowlands (MILLs), Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), Agriculture Transformation Institute (ATI), Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP), The World Bank, European Investment Bank and African Development Bank – Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa.

H.E. Ing. Dr. Habtamu Itefa, Minister, Ministry of Water and Energy states: “We are delighted to launch the DREAM initiative, which is supporting the deployment of solar mini-grids that will provide reliable and affordable electricity to power irrigation for farmers and local communities. Over the life of the program, 200 mini-grids will provide new or improved access to electricity to over 290,000 people, create or improve more than 60,000 jobs, while displacing up to 200,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.”

Mr. Hizkyas Dufera, Senior Advisor to Minister of MILLs states: “The DREAM project has the notable potential to contribute to the vision and mandate of the Ministry of Irrigation and Lowlands (MILLs), which is to irrigate 2 million hectares by 2030.  As part of its National Irrigation Strategy (NIS), the ministry plans to leverage the use of Distributed Renewable Energy (DRE) to achieve national food security and food sovereignty through the expansion of commercially viable, environmentally friendly, climate resilient, and technologically advanced irrigation schemes and the implementation of integrated development in lowland areas.”

Agriculture is the heart of Ethiopia’s economy, accounting for 32% of GDP and 70% of the labor market. However just 5% of land is irrigated and crop yield from small farms are below regional averages. Those who have access to electricity often rely on polluting, unreliable and costly diesel-powered generators. With the prices of diesel having increased by 20% in the last year and food inflation having increased by 42% in February 2022, the country is battling with significant inflation. This is putting increased pressure on the industry, and livelihoods.

H.E Omer Hussein, Minister of Agriculture noted: “With low level of irrigated agriculture in the country, such kinds of initiative as DREAM project which adopts renewal energy using solar mini-grids, will help to increase modern irrigation practices. As part of its mandates to collaborate with line ministries and other partners to advance agricultural transformation thereby contribute to the realization of vision 2030 i.e. to have a transformed agriculture, the MoA is committed to support the successful implementation of this pilot project including its scale-up phase in future.”

Dr. Yifru Tafese, Deputy Director General, ATI: “The launch of the DREAM project today is the beginning of a great journey bridging off-grid renewable energy and irrigated agriculture. It will not only contribute to increasing sustainable agricultural production and growing smallholder farmer incomes in the horticultural Agriculture Commercial Clusters, but also paves the way for broader rural transformation. Hence, the collaboration of all stakeholders becomes critical to ensuring the successful execution of this pilot, and to preparing the ground for successful scale-up”.

The majority of rural Ethiopians depend on farming for their livelihoods, and climate change is making farming in the country, and across Africa, more unpredictable. DREAM will support agricultural communities and provide opportunities for farmers and local businesses to grow and thrive.

João Duarte Cunha, Manager of the Renewable Energy Funds Division in charge of SEFA and African Development Bank spokesperson, states, “The lack of clean, affordable and reliable electricity is a major operational constraint to Ethiopian agricultural businesses, a sector that is both central to rural livelihoods and increasingly vulnerable to climate change. Conversely, energy access business models often lack a commercial client base to ensure financial sustainability. We are glad to partner with the Government of Ethiopia, the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet and other project stakeholders in the innovative DREAM programme, a first-of-a-kind business model pilot for Africa’s mini-grid industry pilot. We thus look forward to piloting this integrated energy-agriculture model and eventually take it to scale across other parts of Africa.”

The DREAM project will provide reliable and affordable solar mini-grid power and irrigation systems that will pump water more efficiently than diesel pumps, increasing crop yields, incomes, and food security. The initiative expects farmer incomes to increase from 50% – 300% depending on the site.

Joseph Nganga, Vice President for GEAPP, states: “We are thrilled to be supporting the Government of Ethiopia on their plans to increase the pace and scale of providing clean, reliable energy to those who need it, while reducing emissions and improving livelihoods.”

Over the next ten years, GEAPP partners will support the Government of Ethiopia to connect up to 20 million people with reliable and renewable electricity via economic development projects across rural Ethiopia that facilitate investments into productive use energy.