Bandarban farmers benefit from BADC’s solar power plants

    Originally posted in The Business Standard on 5 February 2023

    The 15 acres of land of farmer Anand Sen, a resident of Rowangchari upazila sadar in Bandarban, had at his disposal seemed like a goldmine. The expansiveness of the land meant he could easily cultivate much produce, but he focused on fruits. Sow and then reap.

    There was, however, one problem – a scarcity of water. Irrigation pumps were an option, but in such a remote area, power – including that generated using diesel — was hard to come by and too costly to bear for most of the farmers. Carrying litres of water up hilly areas was also not always feasible

    That is where the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) came to the rescue. A solar irrigation project, conceived in 2017, solved the water crisis, enabling farmers to irrigate their croplands and orchards at a significantly lower cost.  Production and profits increased at the same time.

    Today, Anand Sen has his orchard. A 2,000-WT solar power system has been installed in his garden for irrigation. There are eight solar panels of 250 watts. A large drum with a capacity of 2,000 litres also sits pretty atop the hill.

    “In the past, the average diesel cost for preparing 40 decimals (locally known as one kani) of land for planting saplings was more than Tk3,000. I could make little profit. But, at present, I get an adequate amount of water and do not have to spend any money,” said Anand.

    Another farmer, Lulamong Marma said due to the soil characteristic of the area, the production is less from the land where underground water is extracted for irrigation. Using surface water through solar power systems has increased production.

    “There used to be a water shortage in the rabi season in this area. That is why, despite having cultivable land, it was not possible to cultivate anything. At present, the installation of motors through solar power has made irrigation easier, yielding more produce,” said Lulamong.

    He said he planted mustard, sunflower, almond, tomato, malta, banana and boro rice on two acres of land.

    Under the project named Irrigation in Hilly Areas through Solar Powered Pumps, there are two types of irrigation processes – Low Less Pump (LLP) and drip irrigation, said Engineer Abu Naim of the BADC irrigation project.

    LLP is for plain paddy land, which can lift 0.25 cusec of water from a canal at a height of up to 30 feet. Another is drip irrigation for fruit orchards or trees, which can lift to 4,000 litres of water per hour in high hills.

    Two farmers from Headmanpara of Rajbil union, Saching Marma and Kachingpru Marma have cultivated various winter vegetables. They have orchards too.

    “We used to use water from ponds for irrigation but most of the ponds dry up during the dry season. Now we can lift water through solar-powered pumps and store it in a large tank on the top,” said Saching Marma.

    BADC officials said for using this process there must be a source of water nearby. At first, water is lifted 300 feet from a nearby pond by motoring it with solar power. Water is then stored in large drums. Then the roots of various fruit trees are sprayed and irrigated through small pipes.

    Five solar power plants out of six are operational in Rajbila union, built-in 2019-20 under the initiative of BADC. Up to 20 farmers can cultivate 10 acres of land under the 2,385-WT plant having nine solar panels.

    Bandarban Sadar Upazila agriculture office said there are nine solar panels in a 2,385-WT plant there in Rajbila union. From 8:30am to 3:30pm, the heat of the sun is intense and the flow of water is also high. Ten acres of land is cultivated by 15 to 20 farmers with this solar power. Lulamong Marma said that they have

    BADC Irrigation Project Engineer Abu Naeem said that 26 LLP solar and 15 drip irrigation solar power systems have been installed in Bandarban Sadar, Rowangchari, Lama and Naikhongchari upazilas from 2017 to 2020. These projects are implemented under 41 scheme managers.

    LLP solar costs Tk14 lakh and drip irrigation costs around Tk6 lakh, he added.

    He added that the irrigation project in the Bandarban hilly area has ended. A project proposal has been sent to the Ministry of Agriculture for the continuation of the project.