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October 2015

Will the Sun God answer poor farmers' prayers or make things worse?

Amit Jain's picture
A paddy farmer with his umbrella on a rainy day in West Bengal, India. Photo by Amit Jain / World Bank
Farmer in West Bengal, India. Photo by Amit Jain / World Bank)

If God appeared in the dream of a paddy farmer in India’s West Bengal and said, “You have made me happy with your hard work, make any three wishes and they will be granted,” the farmer will say “I want rain, rain, rain.”

That thought kept playing over and over in my mind, after interacting with farmers in the paddy fields of the Siliguri and Jalpaiguri districts of West Bengal. Located in India’s northeast, the area is famous for its scenic beauty, tea plantations and paddy fields. While the region’s fertile soil makes it ideal for a variety of crops, it is almost entirely dependent on rainfall for irrigation, like anywhere else in the world.

To reduce their dependence on the monsoons, India’s farmers have taken 12 million electricity connections and 9 million diesel pump sets with which they pump up groundwater for irrigation.

Although agriculture’s share of India’s economy is declining—it contributes to less than 15% of India’s GDP—it still employs 50% of the country’s workforce. Not surprisingly, perhaps, up to 20% of all the electricity used in India is for agriculture, mostly for irrigation. In some states, this can account for as much as 30-50% of all the electricity used in the state.

There are many states where power for agricultural purposes is highly subsidized, and this, combined with an unreliable supply of electricity, often causes farmers to leave their pumps on all the time. This wastes both electricity and water, with too much energy being used and too much groundwater being extracted, often way more water than needed. 

Since more than half of India’s cultivated land is yet to be irrigated, a business-as-usual scenario will lead to a huge rise in India’s energy needs for agriculture alone.

But there is an alternative—solar energy.

With decreasing solar modules prices (70% in the last 4 years), solar pumps are fast becoming a viable financial solution for irrigation.

However, there are several questions about the use of solar pumps that need to be answered:

Won’t solar pumps only make farmers more lax about using energy resources and wasting groundwater?

Opportunity Africa: people, power, planet

Caroline Kende-Robb's picture
Africa is rich—energy rich. The continent has massive potential for renewable and low-carbon energy, with unparalleled resources to generate solar, wind, hydro and geothermal power.

With such an endowment, African nations have much to gain from building internationally pioneering low-carbon energy systems. At the same time, the world stands to gain from Africa avoiding the high-carbon pathway that has been followed by today’s richest countries and major economies in other regions.
 
"The effects of climate change are being felt all over the planet, but not equally." -- Kofi Annan

The poor pay more

Despite this energy wealth, two-thirds of Africans (621 million people) still live in households that do not have electricity. Africa’s poorest people also pay the world’s highest prices for energy. A woman living in a village in northern Nigeria, for example, pays 60 to 80 times as much for a unit of energy as a resident of New York because she does not have access to grid electricity.

Women in mining share pain and unite for change

Rachel Perks's picture
National Conference on Women in Mines - DRC

I recently joined over 150 women who work in the mining sector of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at a conference sponsored by the World Bank. This was the first national conference ever held in the DRC to discuss women-specific issues in the sector and what can be done to improve their well-being.  

Many topics were discussed over the course of the three days. Some of the most compelling came from the personal testimonies shared by the women themselves. For instance, to generate understanding of the challenges these women face, a video showed girls as young as 12 years of age pounding quartz to extract gold. A woman may gain up to 2,000 Congolese Francs per day for this work, which is about US $2. Many women at the conference showed callouses on their hands from continuous years of arduous labor. This is but one example of the impacts suffered from the most physically taxing jobs occupied by women in the artisanal and small-scale mining sub-sector.

What will it take to deepen the renewable energy transformation?

Charles Cormier's picture
Image via iStock
Those of us who have been working on climate change over the years have witnessed a number of encouraging announcements as a run-up to the Paris COP, where the global community is gathering to agree on collective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2020.  The two largest emitters have announced action, with China agreeing for the first time to peak its GHG emissions by 2030 (using a number of tools such as emissions trading), and the United States agreeing to cut its emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.  The World Bank’s State and Trends Report on Carbon Pricing announced that about 40 countries and 23 cities, states, or regions have put a price on carbon emissions—explicitly internalizing costs of damage to the environment. This means that about 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide, or 12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are covered by some type of carbon pricing scheme.  And countries continue to submit pledges to reduce GHG emissions—through the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions—in advance of the Paris COP.

In the energy world, there is equal excitement about recent developments.  Renewable energy prices have significantly fallen over the years, in particular for wind and solar. The International Energy Agency (IEA) announced earlier this month that renewable energy will be the largest source of new power generation capacity globally—700 GW in the next 5 years. The IEA does not expect that the fall of oil prices to affect the growth in renewable energy, and expects the power sector to continue to lead the way in the global energy transformation. The IEA also estimates that the share of power generation from modern renewables (including hydropower) will increase from 22 % in 2013 to 26% in 2020.