The Emergence of Off the Grid Agriculture

Taking Agriculture into the dessert – How could this save farmers from the impact of Climate Change?

Taking farming Off-Grid

Karmsolar – an Egyptian Start Up – has benefited from the emergence of a new trend for farmers to leave the banks of the Nile in search for water elsewhere. With higher unpredictability of the River Nile water flow due to Climate Change, the challenges of finding power and energy in the middle of the desert are becoming a fact that companies and farmers have to deal with, before their industry gets hit by nature rather than anyone else. (9)

Farming in the age of Climate Change 

In the heart of San Juaqin Valley, in California, farmers buy land to collect water in wet years, in hope of getting through the times of drought that are becoming more unpredictable, and more drastic than ever before. Yet, this is just a band-aid for farming, which will suffer greatly in cases of long droughts that span over 3 years in time. (10)

The fear is not just about the lack of crops, or the loss of almost 95,000 jobs in California only, but it’s the question of whether this is reversible, or is it too late? (8)

Halfway across the world, 400 million people depend on the predictability of the River Nile, the lifeblood of many countries of Africa – and the only source of water for food supply, productive environment for the human population and for animals and plants. Particularly in Egypt, a country with 100 Million in population (1), the country’s population occupy only 5% of the land, all of it along the Nile River. Throughout history, Egypt’s population has lived along the banks of the Nile, benefiting from the generous source of water that allows them to farm, drink, and maintain a stable source of water.

Unpredictability in the Nile River

By supplying 95% of Egypt’s water needs, unpredictability in the flow of the River Nile has great implications on Egypt, in particular on farmers, who have for a very long time chosen the Nile banks as an attractive location for many reasons. (4)

El Nino Cycle, a phenomenon that controls rainfall variation in the Ethiopian highlands and basins, will increase in intensity and duration as the average temperature across earth continuous to rise. As a result, there will be as much as 50% increase in variation of the amount of water flow in the Nile from year to year, a rate that is too high – too risky – for sustainable development of agriculture, and reliable production of plants for the country’s growing population. (3)

Today, Climate Change is suggesting that there might be more value elsewhere – where being subject to this set of risks is minimized, and more stability is attained.

A new supply chain for farming

Karmsolar, a solar power energy company, has partnered with farmers in their quest to solve this issue, and created a solution which could be the lifeblood for the new age of farming in Egypt. The company creates water irrigation systems, that are solar powered, allowing farmers to have sustainable sources of water from aquifers.

Moreover, the company stores and sells energy to farmers in the dessert where there is no connection to the national power grid. And finally, a subsidiary – Karmbuild – provides construction projects that are energy efficient, and that reduce the need for temperature control throughout the year. (9)

With no dependence on fossil fuel, grid electricity, or multiple construction companies, farmers are now offered a new chain of supply for all their needs wherever the sun rises. Karmsolar aims to change the supply of agriculture’s main inputs, by consolidating it into one company, with one mission – Off-Grid Sustainable Agriculture. (12)

The future for Karmsolar:

With unfavorable government regulations for solar energy in Egypt, a country heavily dependent on fossil fuels, this was a perfect opportunity for minimizing the cost of water for dessert farming, by eliminating fuel cost, fuels transportation cost, power generation equipment cost, and replacing this with a solar dependent facility in a location that has abundance of sun. (10)

However, the scale of this is still under test. With the harsh conditions of the dessert, and the limited support from the government, small farmers are still unable to take on big investments to start such project. Will this receive a boost from a government in dire need to grow its food supply?

Also, will Karmsolar be able to deliver on the needs of more advanced technologies for Agriculture? Or will the grid eventually enter remote areas, and compete with one of its major value propositions?

Word Count: 748

  1. “Egypt Population 2017.” Egypt Population 2017 (Demographics, Maps, Graphs), worldpopulationreview.com/countries/egypt-population/.
  2. “How Climate Change Might Affect the Nile.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 3 Aug. 2017, www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21725802-egypt-ethiopia-and-sudan-will-have-learn-share-water-or-their-people-will.
  3. “Climate Change Could Lead to Overall Increase in River Flow, but More Droughts and Floods, Study Shows.” org – News and Articles on Science and Technology, phys.org/news/2017-04-climate-river-droughts.html.
  4. David L. Chandler | MIT News Office. “Nile Faces Greater Variability.” MIT News, 24 Apr. 2017, news.mit.edu/2017/nile-climate-change-droughts-floods-0424.
  5. ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170424141236.htm.
  6. “Climate Change Will Alter Flow of River Nile.” Climate News Network, 1 May 2017, www.climatenewsnetwork.net/climate-change-alter-flow-river-nile/.
  7. Walker, Leon. “Middle East Turns to Solar Power.” Energy Manager Today, 5 Sept. 2013, www.energymanagertoday.com/forbes-middle-east-turns-to-solar-power-095068/.
  8. Groom, Additional Nichola, et al. “Water Scarcity Clouds California Farming’s Future.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 13 Mar. 2009, www.reuters.com/article/us-water-agriculture/water-scarcity-clouds-california-farmings-future-idUSTRE52C07R20090313.
  9. MacBride, Elizabeth. “On Cue With Elon Musk, A Solar Power Company Blooms In The Egyptian Desert.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 27 Jan. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/elizabethmacbride/2017/01/27/taking-cue-from-elon-musk-a-solar-power-company-blooms-in-the-egyptian-desert/2/#a58e0894910d.
  10. Pimentel, David, et al. “Water Resources: Agricultural and Environmental Issues | BioScience | Oxford Academic.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 Oct. 2004, academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/54/10/909/230205.
  11. “Water Scarcity.” WWF, World Wildlife Fund, www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity.
  12. “KarmSolar Is a Pioneering Innovation-Driven Global Company Dedicated to Providing Solar Solutions for Today’s Businesses and Industries.” KarmSolar, karmsolar.com/.

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7 thoughts on “The Emergence of Off the Grid Agriculture

  1. This is a cool concept, thanks for sharing. It will be interesting to see how this concept evolves in the future. While the desert may provide shelter from the unpredictability of the Nile, the hotter climate of the desert may lead to higher water requirements to grow the same number of crops. It will be interesting to see how that aspect of the economics also plays out.

  2. It is a neat business idea, however I would emphasize your point that without government support investing in these technologies before it becomes a true necessity, it risks remaining a niche pursuit of well-intentioned entrepreneurs. A more developed VC ecosystem in Egypt would surely jump at the chance to invest on this tech if it can yield return and a more efficient way to grow crops outside of the Nile floodplain.

  3. Fascinating idea/company – thanks for bringing this to our attention. In what is hopefully a turning of the tide on the Egyptian government’s resistance to solar technologies, GE recently announced that it will be installing the first utility-scale solar power facility in Egypt (link below). Although GE is providing the financing and equipment for this project, hopefully the existence of this project is a signal that the government is supportive of investment in solar technologies and could some day invest in companies like Karmsolar or, at the very least, help them secure outside funding.

    https://dailynewsegypt.com/2017/09/19/ge-build-egypts-first-utility-scale-solar-power-plants-1500-volt-technology/

  4. I agree that small farmers will probably not be able to fund this without support from a third party. Does that third party have to be the government or could it be an investor that would take equity or a portion of future revenue? It may be more difficult to convince the government to invest in solar panels for water irrigation from a small start-up company. Karmsolar is able to prove the benefits of the solar powered water irrigation systems and easily explain the analytics behind making the large investment to investors, I think that this could be very impactful to not only the farmers in Egypt but in many other countries where climate change has negatively affected agriculture.

  5. Very interesting piece about creative ways to solve environmental issues. A key question that comes to my mind is whether or not government support for solar projects is sustainable in the long term. In order to fund these types of solar projects, the government will need to raise additional funds or reallocate existing ones. This poses the question of whether or not the net impact of the solar projects is positive for the broader society/economy. A more realistic long term solution is for the private sector to introduce a more cost effective solar panel. One way to incentivize the development of less expensive solar panels is to provide tax breaks and incentives to the manufacturers rather than subsidies to the consumers

  6. Interesting view! One point of caution with respect to tapping the water supply in the ground relates to the long term effects of such actions. While a short term solution, this supply of water can also be sated in the future and cause hardship for farmers in the same respect. In particular, consistent overuse of the groundwater supply can cause a lowering of the land. [1] This result in effect limits how much water can be stored in the ground, and this dynamic can have cyclical effects. In order to pursue such a means for obtaining water in Egypt, policies should be set in place to avoid the possible negative effects.

    1. http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-groundwater-20150318-story.html

  7. Excellent article, MZ! As you and Karmsolar have both identified, solar and alternative irrigation systems appear to make tremendous sense in Egypt from a natural resources perspective. I think Karmsolar’s decision to vertically integrate not only improves its value proposition to customers, but also provides cost-saving opportunities from a transportation and energy storage perspective. I am concerned about wide-scale customer adoption of Karmsolar as an alternative, especially given the up-front costs that you mention associated with solar energy. To improve the dissemination of its product, I think Karmsolar should continue to forge larger-scale client relationships, as it has recently with Dakahlia Group (https://egyptianstreets.com/2017/10/04/karmsolar-signs-largest-ever-private-power-purchase-agreement-ppa-in-egypt/). As OhianiD commented, I think the signaling affects from large, trusted companies will improve the government perception of solar as well as the customer adoption rate in Egypt.

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