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Copyright 2017 - @ College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences - Makerere University. All Rights Reserved!

Makerere University develops a Solar - powered Irrigation Pump

Prof. Banadda demostrates how the system works outside the office of the Prime Minister



  • Dons ask government to establish  an agricultural engineering fund to scale out innovations
  • Government hails Makerere University for research and innovations
  • Prime Minister assures scientists of the availability of funds and tasks Makerere to work on local  assembling  and  mass production of the solar pump as part of the innovation.

Makerere University in partnersship  with  Perdue University in Indiana USA  has developed a  solar-powered Irigation pump  as a cheap and reliable solution for small scale farmers that form the bulk of farmers in the world.  The entire system can be assembled at a cost of shs. 6.5 million .

The irrigation pump was demonstrated and launched on Thursday 5th January, 2017 by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Uganda the Rt. Hon. Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda  at his office near Parliament of Uganda. The function was attended by officials from Uganda Prisons, Operation Wealth Creation and the Chancellor Makerere University Prof. Ezra Suruma among others.

The Solar Power project  at Makerere University was led by Prof. Noble Banadda as the Principal Investigator (PI) together with  Dr. Micheal Kigunddu and Dr. Ahamed Zziwa , all from the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems engineering, School of Food Technology, Nutrition and Bio engineering, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The prime minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda launching the system outside his office near Parliament.

The system is composed of the solar panel (100watts), a battery, a pump  and tubes  and  can efficiently work on surface water although adjustment can be made on the size of the solar panel and water pump to utilize underground water. All   the materials are locally available except the solar panel that was imported.

Horizontally, the system  is  able to get water within 100 metres and  8-10meters above the ground. The machine is able to work without rusting, they are  portable ( to and from the field) and therefore mobile.  The system is able to pump 450 litres of water per hour.  In a day, a farmer will be able to pump 3600 litres of water for the 8 hours (working day).The other advantage of this system is harvesting water for other uses like water for animals. 


Top are the Makerere Project investigators: L-R Dr. Nicholas Kigunddu, Dr. Ahmed Zziwa and PI Prof. Noble Banadda. Bottom are the major system components.

The PI Prof. Banadda said, in developing the system,  Makerere University  had collaborations with the Perdue university in Indiana USA and students to model on computers and technology development because it was important to learn from what others have done.

 He said the solar powered irrigation pump was tested and found efficient in IOWA and Indiana at a total cost about $ 185,000 US Dollars over one year  period. The cost includes tuition and stipend of two graduate students that were involved in modeling and designing the system. These funds according to Prof. Banadda, were an offer by an individual American.

“Our motivation was … We thought that given that Uganda lies on the equator, God gave us a resource which is the sun but how can we harness this God given resource to improve agriculture and we thought of a solar powered pump to help small scale farmers  or farmers who cannot afford the fuel run pumps or motors.” Banadda went ahead to say:

“So our aim was very simple, solar powered pump that can deliver in a reliable and cheap way water to a farmer. Our design requirement was  5-10 acres . The other issue which motivated us is the energy, the ability  as we have a solar panel but store that  energy reserved for a cloudy day . So we included the battery in the system”. Prof. Banadda said.

Mak investigators demonstrate and explain to the Prime Minister how the battery works.

Available pumps on the Ugandan market require diesel or petrol to run but this is a special pump  designed for solar  to be able to pump water at no cost.  The  system components include  the  solar panel ( able to hold atleast 100 watts) to capture the energy; connected to a battery  (for energy storage ) a solar pump connected to have the water pressure that releases the water through the tubes .

On a cloudy day, where the sun is not enough, the system is able to pump water with a battery alone for 2-3 hours. If you are not able to buy a battery you are able to pump using the solar energy . It is a complete system with a solar panel and without a battery. The  solar system can also be used for lighting.

The battery for the system

“We did a computer simulation to know what capacities we need  to be able to pump water at a distance of atleast 100 meters  from the water source. Then we were able to pump water at a distance of 8 – 10 meters above the ground. So for a farmer  with 10 acres, this system is good for him/her because this system is able to irrigate your crops.  Another thing which we looked at was the issue of cost from the farmers’ perspective, maintenance and purchase.  When we calculate the cost for this prototype, we are talking about  shs. 6.5 million”, The Professor explained.

The solar panel in this system according to the PI was imported while the rest of the materials are locally available on the Ugandan market.

Prof. Noble Banadda poses for a photo with the Vice President Edward Ssekandi after a brief meeting after the launch

Prof. Banadda asked government to establish an agricultural engineering fund to support innovators to help farmers and scale out the innovation to spur agricultural production and productivity.

“I wish to request through you the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister that an agricultural engineering development fund be established to fund issues in agricultural related fields . At Makerere University School of Food Technology, Nutrition and Bio engineering,   we have a Presidential fund to help scientific innovation like what we have done but that is not enough. We developed the three wheeled multipurpose tractor but how is it scaling out and helping farmers? The don asked.

The Co investigator, Dr. Ahamed Zziwa said that the uniqueness of the project was the involvement of other partners and graduate students. He said the team was able to hold skype meetings and to learn a lot more.

“Students in Perdue University are always  tasked to find solutions to problems of the developing world.  And as a team from Makerere we  feel we are doing something which is fundamental to our  country”.Dr. Zziwa said.

On the cost of the system, Dr Zziwa said it was seemingly high to  the rural farmer because the team tried to get some components but were we not available in the country . He said the figure (shs. 6.5m) was partly a result of the shipment costs and working over distances.

He also implored government and other stakeholders to look at the issue of taxation to reduce the cost of the system.

Dr. Nicholas Kigunddu the second Co investigator advised that  the issue of cost could be mitigated by farmers coming together to work as a group. He said the university has been implementing projects  with farmers in Rakai using  simple irrigation systems that have been successful for the past four years. He said the developed system can work efficiently on surface water, by gravity and storage water tanks .

While launching the prototype, the Prime Ministered saluted Makerere University experts for living to the countries expectations and continuing to take the lead in research and innovations saying, government was happy about that.

 “The issue of an appropriate solar pump to be used for irrigation and therefore combat drought causing harvoc in different parts of the country is  something that government takes as of great priority”. The Premiere said.

Participants pose for a group photo with the Prime Minister after the launch.

Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda tasked Makerere University dons  to look at how the system can be quickly commercialized by either  assembling or manufacturing the whole system  here in Uganda as part of the innovation  for the public use.

“The President on various occasions has echoed the need for scientists to find solutions that affect agricultural sector. I am therefore happy that Makerere University  has responded to it. I would be interested in operationalisation and I also think this pump would be also available for use by the wanainchi to overcome climatic challenges of drought”.

Dr. Rugunda  observed that with increasing  population and eroded soils, Uganda  must have more scientific methods of agriculture, fertilization being one of them and irrigation being another.

“So Makerere University appears to be effectively responding to all the challenges of drought and demands by government. The fact that the solution is locally developed it is really quick for our country”. Dr. Rugunda stated.  

He also said, there were some areas that government needs to look into.

“ I realize that this  is  the same team that was involved in the tractor.  Don’t get worried about the new fund you have called agricultural engineering fund. My view is that the critical point is not money but more importantly the availability of money to support innovation”. He went on to state that:

“And there is enough money to support innovation and in the coming budget there will be more money added to support innovation of this nature. There is now the Ministry of Science and Technology and we will ensure that innovations are supported to help the wanainchi. Therefore, money is not the problem given the urgency and the contents of solar irrigation in agricultural production in our country”. He pledged.

The Prime Minister also reported that the issue of taxation and related matters were issues that government was more than happy to deal with because   this particular pump is much more to the country than the small taxes talked about.


Story compiled by:

Jane Anyango

Communication Officer,

College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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