Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CInI), a SoLAR IF Grantee based in Rachi, aims to transform the lives of tribal households in the tribal belt of Jharkhand.
In the Sardakhel village, Rachi, the local tribal group Munda resides. The tribe is dependent on agriculture. But susceptible to poverty due
to the lack of remunerative incomes from their smallholdings. One of the major constraints is the lack of intensive irrigation facilities. The uneven local terrain prevents gravity-fed surface irrigation from working effectively.
In 2006, an NGO called Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN) installed three 8 HP diesel pumps and provided agricultural training through the Swarnajayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojana Special project. This motivated the tribe to do commercial horticulture farming. But the operational cost of the diesel pumps was not tenable for these marginal farmers. PRADAN, therefore, replaced the existing diesel pumps with solar irrigation pumps (SIPs).
Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CInI), a nodal agency of the TATA Trust, was also working towards renewable energy transition in the tribal belts through their Lakhpati Kissan scheme. They facilitated some 3000 SIPs through the scheme, including those at Sadakhel. SIPs enabled the Sadakhel farmers to specialize in high-value crops like watermelon. Over the years, the area has developed into a watermelon cultivation hub. The socio-economic condition in the village has improved: children are sent to local private schools for better education, and female participation in farm management is on the rise.
While watermelon requires intensive irrigation, it is only seasonal. So the surplus energy generated by the pumps is wasted. Given the high (fixed) costs of installation of the SIPs, such loss may denude their overall long-term benefits.
But Sadakhel does not even have an electricity grid. Then how to tap the surplus energy?
With SDC-IWMI SoLAR Project’s Innovation Fund (IF) Grant, CInI is trying to set up a mini-grid to integrate three existing SIPs, each of 5HP. The Initiative has identified sites in the village for installing a farmer-managed centralized PV and distributed Load infrastructure. The SIPs will be integrated to form an excess energy accumulation and redistribution network (EARN) that could power a three-phase loan. The system will utilize an off-grid inverter with a battery bank to create a local grid and provide reference power to the grid-tie inverters from each site’s will. A network of underground cables will do the power distribution to the village. The battery bank is expected to store 30% of the power generated by solar panels. The productive load is expected to utilize the power from the EARN system in the daytime when the Solar produces maximum energy.
When the IWMI team visited the CInI site at Sardakhel on May 27, 2022, the villagers emphasized the role of the SIPs in alleviating the community from poverty. They also mentioned the need for local-level agro-processing facilities, in the absence of which they travel as far as 7 km to process products they consume at the village level. No access to electricity prevents them from using first-stage processing equipment such as flour mills/chaff cutters/ paddy threshers, etc., within the village. To run these types of machinery, they need good quality three-phase electricity connections to operate.
CInI targets to leverage this demand for agro-processing. Their grid-integration intervention is premised on three objectives: (i) use surplus power from SIPs for agriculture beyond irrigation, (ii) monetize the surplus energy by catering to the demand for agri-processing, and (iii) augment agricultural livelihoods and incomes by transitioning to renewable energy.
In a gram sabha held between 20 farmers, CInI and PRADAN officials, and the IWMI team visiting the site, an LOI was signed by the farmer group, CInI, and PRADAN for implementing the grid-integration project.