[This article is also available in Spanish]
The Artibonite Department in Haiti, with its 28,000 hectares of irrigated land in the Artibonite Valley, serves as the breadbasket of the nation for cereal production, including maize, sorghum, and rice. It’s the largest rice-producing region in the country, accounting for more than 50% of the total rice cultivation area. In the northern part of the Department, in Haut Artibonite, the usable agricultural land in the Plain of Gonaïves is estimated to be 2,400 hectares, and as of 2015, it had a population of 190,349 urban residents and 17,809 rural inhabitants.
The Plain of Gonaïves, cut across by the Quinte River, is located in a dry region with average annual precipitation of 544 mm and a temperature of 26.1°C. The dry season, one of the lengthiest, peaks between August and October. During the rainy season, monthly rainfall rarely exceeds 100 mm. To maintain agricultural production and contribute to local food security, the utilization of the Gonaïves Plain aquifer is essential to meet the demands for drinking water, commercial, and agricultural purposes in one of Haiti’s driest regions.
Since 2018, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has been funding the Agricultural and Agroforestry Technological Innovation Program (PITAG), executed through the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture (MARNDR). Its objective is to increase agricultural income and food security for Haitian smallholders. PITAG achieves this by supporting agricultural research and training and by promoting sustainable agricultural technologies. As part of this effort, PITAG has acquired and provided 28 solar-powered irrigation pumps that are now operational in the lower Plain of Gonaïves.
These pumps play a vital role in ensuring consistent and stable water supply for crops, which allows crop diversification and contributes to food security through the mitigation of yield variations. On average, they can irrigate 50 hectares, with some capable of irrigating up to 100 hectares. They operate based on the daily sunshine duration, which is approximately eight hours a day, given the region’s minimal cloud cover. Previously, conventional pumps powered by the state-owned electric company experienced instability due to power supply issues and frequent breakdowns.
Governance Mechanism and Pump Management
Each pump is managed by a committee of five members responsible for its security, management, water distribution, fee collection, and conflict resolution. These committees are represented in the various zones within the Plain of Gonaïves, with a total of five zones. Each zone has an association where three members per pump committee sit. Together, these associations form the FEPIPGO (Federation of Irrigating Planters of the Plain of Gonaïves). The creation of this federation was a direct result of the pump installation. The Artibonite Departmental Directorate also has three trained technicians responsible for pump upkeep (although these pumps are known for requiring only minimum maintenance).
Impacts of the Solar Pumps
The solar pumps have had a threefold impact in the community:
- Agronomic: Before the installation of the PITAG solar pumps, the main crops were maize, sorghum, beans, sweet potatoes, and cassava. With the solar pumps in place, greater crop diversification became possible, with a focus on high market value horticultural crops.
- Economic: In the areas surrounding the Plain of Gonaïves, traditional fuel-powered pumps cost 500 HTG (approximately 4 USD) per hour of water. With solar pumps, the cost of one irrigation cycle is only 70 HTG (approximately 0.5 USD), making it seven times cheaper than traditional pumps. After gaining access to the solar pumps, a 0.25-hectare plot generates added value five times higher than before, resulting in wealth creation and a strong contribution to local food security.
- Social: The installation of solar pumps has helped slow down land fragmentation and urbanization in the Plain of Gonaïves. It has contributed to stability in the Departmental Agricultural Directorate, with fewer protests and conflicts related to water resource sharing. Additionally, it has strengthened social ties through the creation of the FEPIPGO. The distribution basins serve as a gathering place for members of the population, especially since the pumped water is also used for bathing, washing, livestock watering, etc.
Main Challenges and Prospects
While the solar pumps have mitigated certain resource-sharing conflicts, tensions still exist, especially because plot owners near the pumps are favored over those downstream. There is also a need to put in place appropriate measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of the pumps (optimize the water flow down the canals, enhance technical assistance, ensure general pump maintenance).
In this context, the consolidation of the role and functions of FEPIPGO is desirable: granting it a permanent place in decision-making and consultation spaces that affect irrigators’ interests would be necessary. Finally, an environmental and social impact study should identify the actions to be carried out at the scale of the whole Quinte River watershed for the replenishment of its aquifers, and for the sensitization of the local population on environmental management and more specifically on the conservation of the local agro-ecological balance.
 MARNDR (2019), Analyse de l’intervention portant sur l’installation de 15 pompes d’irrigation solaires dans la plaine des Gonaïves.
 Bérut, C. (2020), Études agricoles sur des pompes solaires dans la Plaine des Gonaïves, Haïti.
 One of the major advantages of the pumps is the very low need for spare parts, unlike conventional pumps. The solar pump has an average lifespan of 8 years without any intervention, while the photovoltaic panels can last an average of 25 years.