Enhancing Agricultural Community Resilience through Solar Mini-Grid Irrigation

Agriculture contributes a dominant share of employment and a substantial share of economic output across much of Africa, including in Ethiopia, but most farmers work on relatively small plots and the vast majority of farms are almost exclusively rain-fed. Thus, a substantial share of the population is significantly exposed to risk from recurrent drought, erratic rainfall, and other climate-related stresses (Dagninet and Adugnaw 2019). Increasing resilience of Ethiopian smallholders to complex, interconnected climate and poverty risks is an urgent development imperative. This project, led by Duke University and in partnership with Haramaya University, Veritas Consulting, the Ethiopian Ministry of Water, Irrigation, and Energy (MoWIE) and the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), will evaluate the role of a new agricultural development model based around solar mini-grids in rural Ethiopia. The evaluation will test the hypothesis that solar mini-grids offer a viable solution to confronting the challenges of energy poverty and low agricultural productivity, building community resilience, and contributing to rural economic development.

The project will generate data from a custom-designed survey conducted over three waves with 900 agricultural households per wave (30 villages total). In studying the outcomes of the mini-grid interventions, the researchers will focus on aspects related to resilience and sustainability, including financial and economic outcomes; nutrition and food consumption; farm production and yield; social capital and risk-sharing; income, assets, and consumption; economic viability of the private investor-led mini-grid model; and long-term groundwater availability. They will use a difference-in-differences design to compare pre- and post-intervention outcomes of interest between the treatment group and two sets of control villages. Recognising the importance of documenting pre-trends to draw a rigorous causal link between the interventions and measured outcomes, they will rely on administrative and custom datasets to gather available data on pre-trends related to key variables of interest. They will also use qualitative data collected from community informants to enrich the statistical conclusions.

To reduce and prepare for the worsening impacts of climate change, Ethiopian policymakers have developed several strategies, including integrated plans to advance access to irrigation and modernise irrigation systems. By partnering with Ethiopian ministries and agencies, this project speaks directly to policy. This study also recognises the role of development finance in stimulating private sector development. Many donor (and NGO) initiatives provide initial capital and institutional support with the hope of “jump-starting” rural markets for technologies such as off-grid solar. This analysis will thus support the development of private enterprises’ business plans that demonstrate a return on investment, by providing insights for private-sector decision makers regarding the sustainability and scalability of technologies such as off-grid solar used for irrigation.


Marc Jeuland

Duke University

Jema Haji

Haramaya University

Omer Bomba Mohammed

Veritas Consulting