From Seeds to Self-Sufficiency: SunCulture’s Solar-Powered Revolution for Women in Agriculture

Power Africa
4 min readMar 6, 2024


Rachael is centered in the photograph, smiling at the camera. She is surrounded by lush vegetation, including fruit trees and vegetable crops, with mountains visible far in the background.
Rachael stands in her high-yield crops. Photo Credit: SunCulture

This International Women’s Day, learn how USAID is empowering companies like SunCulture to boost gender equality for women farmers in Africa in collaboration with Factor[e] Ventures, a Power Africa partner, and Arizona State University through the Advancing Modern Power through Utility Partnerships consortium led by the United States Energy Association (USEA).

Across the sun-drenched plains of Kenya’s Rift Valley, women smallholder farmers, constituting up to 65 percent of the Kenyan agricultural workforce, face a battle not just for their livelihoods but for access to the most essential resource of all: water.

A panoramic view of Mount Longonot, with blue skies in the background and farmlands in the foreground.
Mount Longonot, Great Rift Valley Kenya. Photo Credit: Unsplash

In the town of Iten, home to world-class runners, overlooking the Great Rift Valley, Rachael Rotich grows crops of fruit, tree seedlings, and vegetables. Like other farmers in the region she relies on unpredictable rainfall to nurture and grow her harvest. As the effects of climate change worsen, rainfall patterns grow ever more unreliable, leaving farmlands continually vulnerable to drought and farmers vulnerable to losses of both food and income. To water her crops, Rachael manually pumped water from a borehole, filling buckets that could weigh as much as 45 pounds or more than 20 kilos. This physically demanding process consumes many hours of her day. For many farmers like Rachel, gathering water for manual irrigation can take an entire day.

Like Rachael, more than half the population across Africa are smallholder farmers or farmers who operate on two or fewer acres of land. Almost all smallholder farmers rely on manual or petrol-powered irrigation, which results in higher emissions, lower yields, and less income. However, these challenges are further compounded for women because they lack equal access to production resources, credit, land, and technology. In addition, they often face a heavy workload, including irrigation. Globally, women spend 200 million hours a day carrying water.

For Rachael, the burden of watering her crops changed when she discovered SunCulture’s solar irrigation technology. Since she installed the sun-powered pump on her farm last year, she spends less time and labor hauling water and can, instead, expand her crop production.

A sprinkler head sprays water over crops in the foreground. In the background is a solar panel and trees.
SunCulture’s submersible pump is powered by a portable panel that feeds water through sprinklers throughout the farm. Photo Credit: SunCulture

How SunCulture is Engendering Water and Energy Access in Africa

Productive use of energy technologies, like SunCulture’s pump, which uses off-grid solar power to draw water from rivers, lakes, and boreholes before feeding it through a pipe system, increases equitable access for women because it directly targets areas where women face disproportionate challenges like time spent gathering water for their crops and their families.

Rachael stands in her crops taping a long pole with a sprinkler head on top to a wire stand to stabilize the system.
Rachael stabilizes a SunCulture sprinkler to distribute water across her plentiful crops. Photo Credit: SunCulture

“My yields have seen a dramatic improvement, and I have more water for my household and better water management overall. The convenience is amazing,” says Rachel.

Rachael kneels down by a crop of seeds, protected by a tarp held up by rounded branches.
Rachael, like more than half of Kenyan women, is a smallholder farmer, growing crops across one to two acres of land. Photo Credit: SunCulture
Rachael faces away from the camera with a rust-colored hoe swung over her right shoulder. The back of her shirt displays a solar panel with the words “Power of the Sun”.
Rachael, like many women in Africa, used to rely on unpredictable rainfall patterns and well-systems for her crops. Now, Rachael can depend on solar irrigation from SunCulture. Photo Credit: SunCulture

SunCulture’s solar pumps are built with small-scale farmers in mind — built to irrigate one to two acre farms and replace the need for diesel and petrol pumps. SunCulture’s systems are also optimized for women, who make up a large portion of their customer demographic. By designing an affordable technology that intentionally saves farmers both labor and time, SunCulture targets direct barriers that impede equitable growth for women farmers.

SunCulture’s irrigation systems can include direct drip irrigation or sprinkler systems, as shown here. Photo Credit: SunCulture

Entrepreneurs like Rachael, and companies like SunCulture, are transforming how women participate in agribusiness in communities like Iten. This International Women’s Day, we celebrate the women who feed the world and the companies innovating toward an equitable and sustainable agricultural sector.

Approximately 31 percent of farmers who use SunCulture’s systems are women. Of these farmers, 83 percent reported an increase in agricultural production, and 87 percent reported an improved quality of life.

SunCulture is one of three recipients of the Engendering Energy in Kenya grant funded by Power Africa — a U.S. government-led partnership, harnessing the collective resources of public and private sectors to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa — and awarded to Factor[e] Ventures in partnership with Arizona State University and the Advancing Modern Power through Utility Partnerships consortium, led by the United States Energy Association (USEA).

Together, this partnership is boosting gender equity in renewable energy in Africa. SunCulture received funding and technical support through the Power Africa grant to continue scaling their solutions across Sub-Saharan Africa. Other recipients include 60 Hertz and Giraffe Bioenergy, both women-founded ventures.

To learn more about SunCulture’s impact and the farmers who use their systems, visit their website for in-depth case studies and stories from their customers’ perspectives.



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