Oorja: Helping Small-Scale Farmers in India Make Shift to Renewable Energy

In India, small-scale farmers are the backbone of agriculture, growing nearly 50% of the country’s food. Despite their outsized role, they represent some of the poorest segments of society, with a line of work that is at the forefront (and thus, mercy) of the climate crisis. Indian farmers often lack access to agricultural information and quality inputs to increase their income and climate resiliency, resulting in an overdependence on expensive and climate-poor energy solutions to sustain their activities. In particular, small-scale farmers over-rely on fossil fuel and overuse chemical inputs, which leads to high input costs, crop yields 50% lower than potential, and low and irregular income.

Oorja’s initiative replaces diesel used along the agricultural value chain with affordable farming services powered by solar energy to help farmers take full advantage of the yearly growing cycle. Roughly 30 million farmers in India use diesel-powered groundwater pumps, accounting for 12% of India’s diesel consumption. This is both environmentally destructive and operationally expensive; fuel for energy accounts for 20-40% of total input costs for farmers — an enormous burden to shoulder. Through a community-based pay-per-use business model, Oorja allows farmers to transition to economically viable and environmentally sustainable agriculture.

photo by Oorja – farmer at Oonati irrigation site

Oorja owns, finances, operates, and maintains decentralized solar infrastructure at the farm level and sells irrigation and milling services (which are all sourced from domestic manufacturers) to smallholder farmers on a pay-per-use basis. To incentivize their services, they offer affordable tariffs that are up to 60% lower than diesel, thus helping farmers transition to renewable energy. By removing the entry barrier of upfront tech acquisition costs, Oorja allows even the poorest farmers to access «​​​​productive-use» appliances. In addition to providing services, Oorja also has an educational component to their work. The organization provides climate-smart advisory to enable farmers to boost yields, engage in new growing seasons, diversify cropping patterns, grow high-value crops, reduce chemical input, and use water judiciously. They do this through in-person training with expert agronomists, who help farmers learn and adopt innovative approaches to climate-smart farming techniques.

Their B2C (business to consumer) model is operational in six districts in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states of India; in 4.5 years, they have reached 26,000+ smallholders. According to the initiative, 67% of their customers no longer use diesel pumps, abating over 2,000 tons of CO2 emissions. Oorja also addresses another issue in agriculture, the overuse of freshwater. According to the initiative, farmers who undergo their agronomy training now use up to 30% less water for irrigation than previously. For both the environment and farmer’s pockets, it’s a win.

Learn more about Oorja.

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