12 December 2013

Africa: USAID, Partners Award Power Agriculture Innovators

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Washington — The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and four of its partners named two innovative organizations the top winners of their global challenge to design clean energy solutions that have the potential to transform the way farmers and agriculture-related businesses in the developing world feed their countries.

"Today's winning ideas prove that we can change the landscape of what is possible in development," said USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah.

Denver-based IDE, formerly known as International Development Enterprises, and the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York received Powering Agriculture Grand Challenge awards December 11 at USAID headquarters in Washington. Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development is sponsored by USAID, the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Duke Energy and the governments of Sweden and Germany. The challenge was launched in June 2012.

Powering Agriculture is part of USAID's approach to promoting climate-smart agriculture, or "agriculture that sustainably increases productivity and climate change resilience, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and enhances national food security and development goals all at the same time," USAID senior adviser Kit Batten said at the award ceremony. Powering Agriculture aims to expand clean energy solutions in areas like irrigation, food processing and storage and to enhance the incomes of small farmers and farm businesses, USAID said.

"As much as 50 percent of crops grown in Africa are lost simply because farmers can't safely process or move their harvests," said Shah. "This is a big problem around the world. It is more dire when you consider the world will need to produce 70 percent more food on the same amount of productive land in order to feed growing populations," he said.

Shah added that "no element of agriculture is more essential and no resource is more precious than water." He emphasized that every day 800 million farmers have to manually lift and haul water to irrigate their fields, "wasting time, energy and -- critically -- water."

IDE's irrigation system can run on either steam or solar power and is competitive with diesel in terms of cost and results, Shah explained. The nonprofit works with local manufacturers to make the pumps commercially available in Honduras, Nepal and Zambia, he said.

Working in Senegal, Earth Institute enables a small group of farmers to use a central solar energy unit to power multiple pumps for irrigation. The approach defrays the individual user's cost. The solar power can be accessed through prepaid electricity cards sold in local shops, Shah said. Over the next three years, Earth Institute expects to install three of the microsolar energy system across Senegal, he said.

At the award event, Powering Agriculture also recognized 10 other innovative organizations for their designs:

- Camco Advisory Services (Benin and Tanzania) produces sustainable, portable, carbon neutral and cost-effective energy from crop waste. The energy can be used for fruit drying; coconut, coffee and coca processing; soap production; hulling and parboiling rice; processing lumber; purifying water and pasteurization.

- EarthSpark International (Haiti) developed a microgrid powered 90 percent by photovoltaic electricity that provides electricity for processing agricultural products with longer shelf life.

- ECO Consult (Jordan) developed an integrated model of hydroponic and solar-powered farming that uses dramatically less water than conventional farming. It gives farmers in water-scarce regions the opportunity to increase their income while reducing water use.

- Motivo Engineering (India) provides electricity storage and transformation units that can connect to solar panels, wind turbines, water turbines and formal electricity grids to dramatically increase agricultural productivity.

- African Bamboo (Ethiopia) is an environmentally friendly thermal modification process that can virtually eliminate such decay factors as rot, insects and warping while yielding a stable, fast-growing, and ecofriendly substitute for wood materials.

- SunDanzer Refrigeration (Kenya) offers a solar-powered cold chain solution that chills milk immediately at collection centers before the milk is shipped to dairy processors.

- Promethean Power Systems (India) developed a thermal energy battery pack that fully charges on solar power or a few hours of grid electricity to provide cold-chain storage around the clock.

- University of Georgia Research Foundation (Uganda) uses cow manure as a renewable-energy source to power milk coolers to expand farmers' marketable dairy products at a low cost and with little complexity.

- REbound Technology (Mozambique) designed an off-grid solar refrigeration system that reliably removes field heat without consistent, high-cost electrical supply.

- Experience International (Indonesia) offers a low-cost, solar powered solution that virtually eliminates costly and frequent maintenance for cold storage and ice making near fishing ports.

All groups were chosen from 475 submissions. More than half of the designs submitted were from developing countries. The 12 groups will share $13 million in funding, according to USAID.

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