Smallholder farmers like Oppong are reaping the benefits of solar-powered irrigation, a cost-effective and easy-to-implement technology.

By Seifu A. Tilahun, Kekeli Kofi Gbodji, Thai Thi Minh, Tafadzwanashe Mabhaudhi, and Olufunke Cofie

Peter Oppong on his cocoa farm in the Ashanti region. Kekeli Gbodji / IWMI.
Peter Oppong on his cocoa farm in the Ashanti region. Kekeli Gbodji / IWMI.

Peter Oppong embarked on his journey as a cocoa farmer in 2008, cultivating his land in the fertile heart of Ghana’s cocoa-growing Ashanti region. His switch to innovative and sustainable farming practices has allowed him to thrive despite challenges, including climate change.

His shift to sustainable agriculture began following the effects of the dry season between 2017 and 2019 when he was forced to fetch water from rivers to ensure his cocoa plantation did not wither away. His application of overhead irrigation ensured the survival of the trees and his livelihood.

Walking on sunshine

In 2020, Oppong embraced innovation. He turned to a company specializing in solar and drip irrigation which provided him with a reliable, solar-powered borehole and a number of poly tanks. The result was a consistent source of groundwater. This allowed him to efficiently distribute water across his irrigated cocoa farmland once every three days.

Oppong harvested 83 bags of cocoa from his 10-acre, non-irrigated land. He reaped an astounding 136 bags of cocoa from four-year-old cocoa trees on his 10-acres of irrigated land, a powerful testament to the effects of solar-powered irrigation. The income from his cocoa sales, at 1308 Ghana Cedis ($111) per bag, provided for his family and allowed him to invest in his farm’s future.

Oppong investment in solar irrigation not only secured his cocoa enterprise but also future-proofed it against climate variability and change. He aims to expand his irrigation efforts to cover all his land. He also envisions using cocoa pod waste to fertilize his maize farm, demonstrating his commitment to minimizing waste and promoting sustainability.

Scaling success

Peter Oppong’s success is built on innovation, hard work, and a deep connection to the land. Scaling up initiatives that promote irrigation, efficient resource use, and responsible farming practices through comprehensive training and support systems will be crucial for achieving broader success and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the cocoa sector in Ghana.

Over the years, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) has made efforts to scale irrigated cocoa farming, by partnering with solar companies such as Pumptech and Interplast, conducting sensitization and awareness creation programs, as well as biophysical and market research to understand the market prospects of irrigation technologies. Sensitive to cocoa farmers’ financial difficulties in adopting irrigation as a climate adaptation strategy, IWMI’s ongoing research through the CGIAR Initiative on West and Central African Food Systems Transformation aims to help produce more success stories like that of Peter Oppong. IWMI is also involved in bilateral projects that are exploring innovative, farmer-friendly financing options. These efforts are designed to overcome the financial challenges faced by cocoa farmers in adopting irrigation technologies.