Solar Milling Pilot Highlights Important Consumer Voices

Solar-powered agricultural processing has significant potential to improve the lives of smallholder farmers in India. We share consumer highlights from two women on their use of a solar mill

By Elisa Lai and Makena Ireri, Senior Associates, CLASP, Co-Secretariat of the Efficiency for Access Coalition

In February 2019, Efficiency for Access traveled with the SELCO Foundation to meet with solar customers currently field-testing a range of off-grid productive use appliances outside Bengaluru, India. Solar-powered agricultural processing has significant potential to improve the lives of smallholder farmers in India. In 2005–06, India produced roughly 210 million tons of grain. CLASP Senior Associates Elisa Lai and Makena Ireri visited subsistence farmers producing small quantities of millet in the Male Mahadeshwara (MM) foothills. For these farmers, solar-powered agro-processing has the potential to reduce manual labor, and increase efficiency and household earnings. Their work with Shivamurthy and Shevamma, a married couple operating and caring for a solar mill, highlights important consumer perspectives.

Shevamma and Shivamurthy are working with the SELCO Foundation to pilot a solar milling machine in the MM foothills located outside of Bengaluru, India. They own a small millet farm and operate the only mechanized mill in the area, which serves approximately 100 households. SELCO Foundation is using the mill to understand the potential of productive use agricultural technologies for smallholder farmers in the region. Shevamma and Shivamurthy co-invested in the project by building the surrounding infrastructure (mill house), paid for through a loan from a local microfinance institution. A millet sorter, which helps farmers sort impurities like stones from the millet before grinding, was also installed at the start of the pilot.

The solar mill, which has a total capacity of 125 kg/day, provides an income for Shevamma and Shivamurthy. They charge other millet farmers 7 rupees for each 5 kg milled. On average, 8 kg are milled daily. They are using the revenue generated from the mill to pay off the loan on their mill house and another loan used to build their new family home. Shivamurthy says that the mill has freed up his family’s time in the evenings. Shevamma recalls a time when she would spend two hours manually grinding 5 kg of millet, a task that takes just 10 minutes with the new mill.

Unlike the solar mill, the mechanized millet sorter has had mixed results. Most of the farmers in the region are home-based and have family available to sort the millet by hand. The mechanized sorter is rarely preferred for small quantities. As a result, few farmers use the appliance.

Data and insights on customer usage are critical in matching off-grid technologies to their ideal markets and use cases. In this case, the millet sorter may be more appropriate in regions with different farmer dynamics, including higher production and larger farms.

To learn more about use cases for agro-processing, The Efficiency for Access Coalition is undertaking research on solar milling including customer-centered pilots in East Africa. We hope that the learnings from this work will help the nascent off-grid solar appliance industry develop better, more efficient appliances that meet customer needs and expectations. In addition, SELCO Foundation conducts R&D to assess appropriateness and efficiency of technologies across various livelihood applications and these findings are shared in its recent publication: Sustainable Energy and Livelihoods: A Collection of 50 Livelihood Applications.


Originally published at efficiencyforaccess.org.