A feasibility study for the utilization of solar energy for sugarcane irrigation pumping to reduce GHG emissions from the use of carbon rich imported electricity for emerging commercial small cane growers in the Eswatini

Eswatini sugarcane


The Kingdom of Eswatini is a landlocked country facing numerous challenges including poverty, food insecurity, and vulnerability to climate-related disasters. The economy of Eswatini is largely agro-based, making it even more vulnerable to climate change. Livestock and crop production under rain-fed conditions have declined by over 30% on average over the last few farming seasons due to changes in rainfall patterns and increasing frequency of droughts. The government has identified sugarcane as a strategic crop that can be utilized to alleviate poverty, especially in the poverty-stricken areas of the Lowveld, with the necessary technical support to create viable businesses. However, the sugar production sector is most at risk from climate induced changes.

Eswatini’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have been steadily rising since 1990 primarily driven by increasing emissions from the Agriculture, Forestry and Land Use (AFOLU) sector, which comprised 48% of total emissions in 2018. To reduce the sugar sector’s contribution to the country’s emissions, a shift to solar energy has been prioritised by the Eswatini Sugar Association.

In an effort to reduce climate vulnerability and empower farmers with economically viable livelihoods that build upon an existing successful commercial sugarcane production agribusiness, the government of Eswatini established the Eswatini Water and Agricultural Development Enterprise (ESWADE) in 1999 to facilitate the planning and implementation of farmer owned and managed sugarcane farms. Since 1999, the Government through ESWADE has developed two major smallholder irrigation projects in the country, and since then, several other small-scale growers have been established. The vast majority of the farmer owned sugarcane companies are connected to the national electricity grid. The electricity requirement for cane farming is focused on pumping water to cane fields through pressurised irrigation systems such as centre pivots, sprinklers and drip. However, irrigation is the major water user in Eswatini as it takes up to 96% of total water consumption, and all sugarcane is irrigated due to a lack of sufficient rain in the cane growing areas. Combined with the increasing GHG emissions tied to grid electricity purchased from South Africa’s electricity generator, ESKOM, the energy costs of cane farmers are averaging over 24% of total operational costs and rising steadily.

According to the Sustainable Energy for All Country Action Plan (2014), there are untapped market opportunities (valued USD 13m in the sugarcane sector alone) for renewable energy investments. The majority of cane farmers are looking for alternatives in the form of renewable energy to remain competitive while reducing their carbon footprint. However, they face economic barriers to investment in new energy technologies, including purchasing costs and obtaining local solar system designers and suppliers. Most farmers cannot directly invest in renewable energy as they cannot meet debt-equity requirements of banks and also lack the institutional capacity to implement large-scale solarisation of farms. There has also been limited awareness about the advantages of solar power across the cane farming communities, though this is changing.  

The government would like to increase the coverage of solar PV as an alternative source of energy for irrigation systems while reducing emissions. Supporting farmers in this shift can reduce their operational costs while achieving these national goals.

CTCN Support

  1. Undertake a feasibility study of the opportunities to solarise the irrigation systems of small-scale cane growers;
  2. Consult with four local (and three South African) solar system developers and present a summary of their services, conditions and financing plans;
  3. Undertake a preliminary assessment of the solar energy needs for each farming company based on historical energy use profiles and develop a ranking system to prioritise farmer companies that would benefit the most from reduced energy costs;
  4. Undertake a solar design assessment to provide an indicative system configuration for each farming company;
  5. Develop policy guidelines for the Government of Eswatini to promote solarized irrigation systems for sugar cane growers;
  6. Develop financing instruments to support this application of technology;
  7. Prepare a generic funding proposal including the full variety of funding proposal requirements.

Expected Impact

An intervention to solarise sugar cane energy demand would represent an 11% saving nationally on energy use and 4.5% of national GHG emissions. The project will raise awareness of solar and service suppliers that will be required to support greater women’s participation. Women farmers and entrepreneurs will, through the development of a gender action plan during the writing of funding proposals, be encouraged and targeted to participate in the project.

Eswatini’s NDC aims for renewable energy resources to comprise 50% of the energy mix by 2022, thus its commitment can be partially met by reducing the emissions linked with electricity usage for irrigation. The project will support the following targets indicated in the NDC:

  • Increasing the contribution of agriculture to economic development, to support both food security and exports;
  • Implementing small scale, decentralized renewable energy technologies to improve energy access in rural areas; and
  • Doubling the share of renewable energy in the national energy mix.


Date of submission
Geographical scope

Project details

Cross-sectoral enabler
Economics and financial decision-making
Request NDE
Ministry Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Meteorology Department
This technical assistance advances the following Sustainable Development Goals

Key documents