The SunCulture AgroSolar Irrigation Kit combines cost-effective solar pumping technology with a high-efficiency drip irrigation system to make it cheaper and easier for farmers to grow. The kit pulls water from any water source (lake, river, stream, well, borehole, water harvester, etc.) using solar power. The solar panels provide the pump’s electricity directly without the need for expensive batteries or inverters. Water is pumped into a raised water storage tank during the day. When irrigation takes place during the evening, a valve on the water tank is opened and water flows down through a filtration system and onto crop root zones via drip irrigation tape.
SunCulture was founded in 2013 in Kenya and has since turned into a professional company supplying thousands of farmers with the tools, knowledge and financing to improve farming productivity. Due to the high demand for the company’s offering SunCulture has expanded within the region. SunCulture’s products and services are developed in close conjunction with its customers ensuring they are tailored to fit their needs while being affordable.
How does your innovation work?
SunCulture’s irrigation systems replace expensive and environmentally harmful petrol pumps with a more efficient, environmentally friendly and affordable solar powered solution. Being independent of power shortages and rainy seasons increases harvesting seasons and thereby farm output. In addition, compared to furrow irrigation, drip irrigation saves about 80% of the water and delivers water and fertiliser directly to crop roots, resulting in yield gains of up to 300%. Besides this, SunCulture is the only company globally to provide a turnkey solar-powered irrigation solution tailored to the needs of smallholder farmers because even with great technology, many smallholder farmers are only one bad growing season away from financial ruin. So in addition to industry- leading solar-powered irrigation systems, our value added services create a one-stop shop solution for farmers which helps them manage the risk inherent in agribusiness. We’ve found that providing these complementary services instead of focusing strictly on technology has enabled us to better meet the needs of our customers and build the trust necessary to facilitate adoption of new solutions. Additionally, only 1% of outstanding commercial bank loans actually go to the agricultural sector. Therefore SunCulture, in partnership with Shell Foundation, launched a Pay-As-You-Grow program to address the $150b global agriculture finance shortfall.
What Evidence do you have that your Innovation works?
We measure progress in the uptake and repeat purchase of our products. The uptake tells us about the relevance of the product in the market and repeat purchases tell us about customer satisfaction. We consciously choose to be a for profit business model because we believe that products should only be in the market if they fill a need and people can afford them without the products being subsidized. All our products and services currently in the market go through the same methodological process. If we have an idea for a new product and/or service we first test the idea in a pilot. We want to make every mistake possible in a small controlled area before bringing a product into the market. This has allowed us to keep our cost of after-sales support under 2% of revenues. After having established the relevance of a product or service we bring it into the market and scale it. That being said we make sure we continuously ensure the product's relevance and cross check its validity for our customers. We have seen other companies that stick to their product and are not flexible enough to change. I.e. energy efficient cookstoves being used as stools.
What is your strategy for expanding use of your innovation?
SunCulture's 2017 goal is to make its products and services exportable, i.e. easy to plug and play in other countries. The challenge in doing so is that all African countries have different market conditions which identifying and including in our expansion strategy is essential for the functioning of SunCulture’s business model. As a result we have decided to increase our country learnings through a strategic partners based in the different countries. Through our partners we can collect country specific data and assess market potential and challenges with minimal risk. The reason for expanding into different market is to increase the impact that SunCulture already accomplished through its solutions: like saving billion liters of water, save thousands of liters of diesel fuel, generate hundreds of MW hours of renewable energy, reduce thousands of kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions, grow tones of fresh fruits and vegetables, realize millions of dollars of savings and increased yields.