Balkh farmers turn to solar energy for irrigation

By Muhammad Qasem

Because of persistent droughts and lack of irrigation water, farmers in Balkh province have turned to digging deep wells and using solar power for irrigation, which has improved their agricultural yields. [Courtesy of Shoaib Hamdard]

KUNDUZ -- To counter persistent droughts and boost agricultural yields, farmers in Balkh province have turned to digging deep wells and using solar power for irrigation.

Farmers have drilled hundreds of deep wells that pump water using solar power in Mazar-e-Sharif and districts of Balkh to address their water shortages and irrigate their farms and orchards, said Shamsullah Khalid, director of the Balkh Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (DAIL).

"Drilling deep wells and installing solar panels are an effective step towards addressing ... water shortages faced by farmers," he said. "It will also increase agriculture yields."

"We try to assess all the problems the farmers face and to address them on time," he said.

Solar panels provide electricity to water pumps for irrigation June 13 in Chahar Bolak district, Balkh province. [Courtesy of Shoaib Hamdard]

Solar panels provide electricity to water pumps for irrigation June 13 in Chahar Bolak district, Balkh province. [Courtesy of Shoaib Hamdard]

Those who used water from the solar-powered wells rather than solely depend on rainwater saw their yields improve, Khalid said.

While in the past farmers were able to cultivate only wheat and barley, this year farmers were also able to cultivate fruit, especially melons, said Abdul Wakil, 46, a farmer in Tana village of Chahar Bolak district, Balkh province.

"I cultivated watermelons on two hectares of land -- [the fruits] are ripe now and have good yields," he said. "From dawn to dusk, we irrigate lands using a four-inch pipe."

His land had long been infertile from drought, he said.

However, now with the installation of a solar power system, he can cultivate various kinds of fruits and vegetables.

Increasing agricultural yields

Using water from wells with the help of solar energy has made things much easier in the agriculture sector, said Baz Mohammad, 53, a farmer in Chahar Bolak district of Balkh province.

"My crops died for several years consecutively from drought and lack of water, which caused me financial losses," he said.

"Several farmers advised me that installing solar panels was the best option for irrigating rain-fed fields," Mohammad said. "Therefore, I bought solar panels out of pocket."

"With the installation of this system, not only is the shortage of irrigation water addressed, but our families have access to clean drinking water too," he added.

"Drought and lack of rain forced us to drill deep wells," said Janat Gul, 59, a farmer in Balkh province. "We use solar power to carry water to our fields, and this has rejuvenated our farming."

"[My] wheat crops died this year from lack of rain and drought, causing us losses, but I am happy that watermelons will cover my losses," said Gul, who has cultivated watermelons on three hectares of land.

"This new irrigation system is both effective and cost efficient for farmers," he added.

Farmers and landowners are digging deep and semi-deep wells in Balkh province, and they are delighted to see an increase in their farms' productivity.

There are more than 800 hectares of rain-fed land in this village, where more than 100 wells with solar power have been drilled, said Saifulddin Rahmani, a farmer in the Malishi village of Chahar Bolak district.

"We used to get 420kg of wheat per 0.2 hectare, but I am confident that next year, we will get 840kg of wheat from every 0.2 hectare," he said.

"I irrigate my fields every day as I have cultivated various varieties of fruits and grains and am happy for their productivity," he said.

Controlled digging

While solar energy has been useful in improving crop yields, farmers should be careful about drilling wells, say authorities and observers.

Drilling wells and using groundwater without a strategic plan will cause a shortage of both irrigation and drinking water, said Mohammad Nazeem Samoon, an irrigation analyst in Balkh.

"The groundwater level is dropping day by day," he said.

"Lack of irrigation water should be addressed through logical means, and groundwater should be managed properly."

Authorities should adopt strategies so farmers and landowners can continue their farming without risking groundwater depletion, Samoon said.

Some restrictions will be imposed on drilling non-standard wells that harm the groundwater table so that the public does not not suffer, said Khalid, the Balkh DAIL director.

"We are planning to call a meeting to share the guidelines of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock prohibiting the drilling of these wells across Balkh province," he said.

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Our people should conserve water, build reserves for it, and collect it because the water in the ground is decreasing day by day. It is a good thing for the farmers to irrigate their fields and get more products from it, but they should save on spending the water, because this water is not our only right. This is also the right of future generations. If we do not conserve water, we may not have water for drinking in the next few years.


The water level in Afghanistan is going down day by day. Currently, Afghanistan is facing severe drought. According to water experts, the underground water is a stock of millions of years, and it is an injustice to lose the right of future generations in this stock. The government and the people must stop the flow of water; big and small dams should be built, dams should be built for this purpose, and water should be diverted from the state of flowing and draining the country at any cost. If we ignore this situation, it is not far from facing a drinking water shortage in the coming years. It is useful for the officials to contact the professionals of the previous government, listen to their advice and act on it.


We have a wonderful country. We have good and lots of water. We have rivers. But the loss reaches us, and the benefit goes to others. In a country with a lot of river water, why should the groundwater be taken out and used for irrigating the fields? This does not benefit the future generations of Afghanistan, but it is a significant loss they may face in the next few years, and they will not even have access to clean drinking water. In the short term, the advantage of solar (solar energy) water extraction is that one's land will be irrigated and give a good harvest. Still, in the long term, underground water reserves will be depleted. It is time for the ruling system to take serious action and consider alternative ways for the farmers.


Unfortunately, Afghanistan’s irrigation system still follows very old methods and has not been modernized. One of its reasons is lack of a regulated internal irrigation network, which could stop the wastage of water and digging of deep wells arbitrarily. I agree with Nazeem Samoon. Non-standardized digging of deep wells can cause many problems for the farmers and local people in the future. I am not sure how much the authorities are concerned about this issue, but I request them to start working on it as soon as possible in order to prevent digging of non-standardized deep wells. Thanks


In addition, the farmers could also work on some other programs. Nowadays I read news on social media platforms that local people have built small dams to store water by collecting money and donations. Engineers from the same areas are responsible for the construction and designing of the dams, and the youth council is also responsible for the collection of the money from the locals and their friends abroad. Through this, they prevent destructive floods, which cause enormous financial and human losses and destroy the farmers' land on the one hand and on the other hand, the underground water will raise with it and drinking water would be also available. If the people stand by each other, they can make positive changes in their societies and lives without relying on the support of NGOs and aid organizations.


Although this is good progress and will increase agricultural products and as well as will improve the economy of the farmers in the country, it should be said that the excessive consumption of this water would create many problems in the long range. While using the solar water pumps doesn’t cost a lot, the farmers and landowners will keep them on from dusk till dawn and try to make the maximum usage of the water but bear in mind that this would cause shortage of water resources in the country and after a few years, the underground reserves of water would completely dry out which will cause a great disaster. Therefore, the government must take action and prevent the overuse of water by strictly monitoring these wells. It is also important that civil activists be mobilized in raising public awareness about the use of water and to make them understand that the excessive usage of this water would create many obstacles in their future and for the next generations.