Kenya’s solar irrigation market is rapidly growing, yet significant demand remains unmet. While Kenya leads Sub-Saharan Africa in solar water pump (SWP) adoption, millions of Kenyan smallholder farmers are yet to access solar-powered irrigation systems (SPIS) and still rely on bucket irrigation, a duty largely fulfilled by women, and dependent on rain-fed agriculture¹. Despite over 35,000 operational SWPs in operation as of January 2021², many smallholder farmers still rely on traditional irrigation methods due to limited access to solar-powered systems.
To meet the growing demand for SPIS and to ensure users have access to proper installation and maintenance services, a skilled workforce is required. This is especially important to offer consumer protection to product users, given the high purchase costs. It is estimated that the assembly, sale and maintenance of SWPs currently offers approximately 1,000 direct formal and informal jobs and is expected to offer 6,000-9,000 direct formal and informal jobs by 2027. The conservative estimates are based on current market trends, but with a huge addressable market, these could increase significantly if market barriers are tackled.
Beyond job creation, the widespread adoption of solar-powered irrigation systems also yields environmental, food security and gender benefits.
These systems replace diesel-driven pumps, reducing carbon emissions enhancing food security by providing consistent irrigation during unpredictable rainfall patterns, and reducing time and physical strain involved in routine acts of water-collection typically managed by women.
Dalberg and CLASP have partnered to understand the current challenges in SPIS education and training and to develop a practical proof of concept to test new interventions. Together, we conducted a sector-specific assessment, including a skills gap identification to evaluate the current Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET) environment for relevant SPIS courses; describing the different job typologies in the sector; establishing the skills required to fill these roles and determining the key workforce challenges.
Dalberg and CLASP have established that there is an evident mismatch between the skills required to service the SPIS sector (a combination of knowledge, practical experience and soft skills) and the skills acquired at TVETs and other short courses.
SPIS are complex systems that require well-trained installation and after-sales professionals. However, sourcing these professionals poses a significant challenge since candidates entering the field lack practical experience, have limited knowledge of SPIS and related technologies and lastly, lack some critical soft skills such as consumer engagement, time management and team collaboration. This is particularly pronounced in rural areas, given that skilled technicians are often concentrated in urban centers.
Challenges in SPIS education and training
Recognizing the hurdles in SPIS education and training is pivotal, as they are at the core of the skills gap issue. Equally crucial is taking proactive measures to tackle these challenges, as a burgeoning youth population armed with the requisite skills and training has the potential to greatly benefit Kenya.
The demand for skilled professionals to work along the SPIS supply chain presents a promising opportunity for underemployed youth; particularly women and those in rural settings where the share of youth not in education, employment or training (NEET) falls within the 10-17% range. While the NEET rate is higher in urban areas, the greater share of rural population in Kenya (about 72% of the total population) translates to a greater absolute number of unemployed rural youth. Moreover, since agriculture is the primary economic activity in rural areas, it is foreseeable that SPIS jobs will likely be in highest demand in those regions.
In addition to increasing job creation opportunities, the widespread adoption of SPIS also contributes to mitigating climate change and increasing food security. These systems reduce dependence on diesel-powered irrigation systems and reinforce food security by providing reliable irrigation for farmers, thus ensuring agricultural productivity amidst erratic rainy seasons.
How can the skills gap be bridged?
Dalberg and CLASP believe that with proper training, the skills gap can be bridged, resulting in increased employment prospects for trainees, especially women and those in rural areas where a huge potential for solar-powered irrigation lies. Kenya’s flourishing solar irrigation pump market not only addresses agricultural challenges but also presents a substantial opportunity for job creation, climate change mitigation, and youth engagement, particularly in rural areas. Encouraging the growth of this sector can simultaneously improve livelihoods, bolster climate resilience, and transform the prospects of the country’s young population.
Drawing from a comprehensive understanding of needs and opportunities in SPIS, Dalberg and CLASP have developed a gender transformative program to effectively equip young individuals with the necessary skills to seize employment opportunities in the sector.
The proposed program will:
- Adapt existing training curricula to cater to the demands of the SPIS sector
- Provide innovative in-school learning opportunities for students to gain employability skillsets and mindsets within the sector
- Improve training quality through train-the-trainer approaches
- Increase private sector involvement
We will actively partner with government bodies, training institutions, the private sector, and development partners towards the goal of fostering sustainable careers for youth employment and boosting Kenya’s much-needed Solar irrigation prospects. We believe the model can help us to learn and adapt to what works in skills training, developing a blueprint that can be replicated in new geographies and sectors. Partnerships that bring relevant expertise, along with Dalberg and CLASP, can help establish a pilot implementation plan, design an up-to-date SPIS curriculum, and formulate a comprehensive monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) framework to systematically measure the impact of the program. Contact us here.
GOGLA, Global Off-Grid Solar Market Report: Semi-Annual Sales and Impact Data, 2021
VeraSol and Efficiency for Access