SunCulture: Changing lives through mobile-enabled solar-powered irrigation

Farmers in the country are now turning to solar powered systems to irrigate their crops as it is becoming vividly clear that relying on rain fed agriculture is negatively impacting on their yields. Over 80% of land in Kenya can be superfluous productive but only 3% of this land is irrigated.

According to a research done by World Bank, crop yields achieved by Africa’s farmers, trail world average production by 50 per cent. But with access to irrigation, capital, technology and know-how, it is estimated that by 2030 the farmer’s production could create a $1tn agribusiness market.

SunCulture is curretnly the only company offering all of these solutions. They providing solar irrigation technology with a system dubbed RainMaker2. Electric, fuel and manual treadle pumps are available in the market, but their effectiveness is constrained by high electricity , fuel  and labor cost respectively. The SunCulture apparatus uses solar energy to power its pumps that in turn pull water from different source i.e. wells, boreholes, lakes, dams and water pans. Different irrigation methods can then be used to water crops – i.e. direct irrigation with hose pipes, sprinkler irrigation as well as drip irrigation.

Paul Iddi Ali, a farmer from Ongata-Rongai in Kajiado County, installed the SunCulture solar irrigation system in 2017, and he concurs that he has increased yields, saved water and cut fuel as well as labour costs. “I needed a more efficient system to manage the watering of my crops. It would take me more than an hour for the watering process.” Says Ali who is specializing in farming crops such as; spinach, kale, tomato and watermelon. By using the Rainmaker 2, Ali has seen his annual incomes rise up tremendously and it is takes him less time to water his crops.

Benard Omondi an Engineer from SunCulture says the company is the first to commercialize solar powered irrigation in Africa. The company designs, makes and sells its solar powered irrigation systems to customers, as well as providing maintenance support, soil sampling among other services. Apart from that SunCulture’s RainMaker2 is IoT enabled allowing the company to engage in predictive and preventative maintenance.  “There are two types of RainMaker2s; 2S and 2C. The 2S is designed to pump water from wells which are between 10 and  70 metres deep, while 2C is designed for very shallow wells of less than 10 metres,” he explained.

SunCulture began after Mr Samir Ibrahim was approached by Charles Nicholas; his buddy and co-founder, with the idea to provide renewable energy for East Africa farmers. The duo entered a social venture competition at New York University and became second. Seeing the potential for the business, they raised some money in seed capital from friends and family and launched a pilot project in Kenya.

“We’ve had to create the support infrastructure from scratch. The ecosystem does not exist for us to piggyback off other industries, it is important to consider farmers as customers, not recipients of aid,” said Mr. Ibrahim earlier while speaking to Financial Times Publication. Technicians and agronomists certified by SunCulture provide farmers with on-site training, soil analysis and other support by mobile phone. Rapid delivery and installation across Kenya are included in the price of the system.

SunCulture’s equipment come complete with a solar panel, battery, pump, 4 light bulbs, 2 USB outlets for phone charging and antennas which allow SunCulture to engage in predictive and preventative maintenance – detecting problems before the farmer herself might have detected them. “The RainMaker2 complete set retails at Ksh 97,000 for cash purchase or at Ksh 8,900 deposit and Ksh 3,900 over a period of 30 months on the company’s Pay-As-You_Grow plan” said Omondi.

SunCulture is not just offering solar pumping solutions but also micro irrigation solutions, such as drip and mist irrigation. The systems are designed flexible allowing the farmer to increase the area under irrigation as he increases his income from using the systems. He is able to start off with a plot as little as 1/8th of and acre up to multiple hectar.  SunCulture thinks of their customers as partnerships not just one off sales – therefore they are on a constant quest to develop new products and services that allow smallholder farmers to climb the productivity ladder.


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