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Cheap Solar Panels and Agriculture

At Desai Legal Services, I always want to help people and companies with common business challenges, but also I want to help businesses with import or export challenges, with investor or worker visa challenges, asset transactions internationally, and just generally, to help business operate legally and efficiently between countries.

And so I will be doing a few videos to highlight a few unconventional growth markets and economies that one day may present business opportunities and challenges.

Today, I will be talking about some very exciting developments about some new farming practices in Afghanistan, and I have long been a strong proponent of these irrigation practices because using these irrigation practices has the chance to transform the poorest countries in the world whose agriculture systems rely almost entirely on rainfall, so that where this too light of rainfall or prolonged droughts, there are risks of famine and starvation.

This story draws heavily on my favorite news source, the British newspaper, the Economist and their reporting on the dramatic agricultural improvements in Afghanistan brought about by solar powered irrigation changes.

A bit of background, in Afghanistan, only 12% of the country is naturally able to grow permanent crops, most in the two major river valleys of the Arghandab River and the Helmand River. Even in those valleys, steady crop yields are dependent on irrigation systems built in the 1950s with American help.

In the past few years, Afghan farmers have started to use cheap solar panels to power groundwater pumps to irrigate previously unarable land and to increase yields in existing farms.

These new practices have allowed farmers to be able to raise crops on around 900,000 acres previously desert land.

The solar panels were a game changer for farmers, who only used to rely on diesel generators, because the solar panels are relatively cheap, with no moving parts to service, and most importantly they don’t require the expensive and hard to get diesel fuel to run.

This new ability to farm desert land has increased the price of desert land by a factor of almost 30 from around $70 an acre to $2000. And this has also changed where Afghani’s are living, with as many as 2.5 million people now living in what used to be the desert.

The heavily agriculture-dependent export market has almost doubled over the past 2 years to an estimated $1bn in 2018 from $596m in 2016.

Now the Economist goes on to talk about how these new irrigation practices is also allowing for record poppy harvests (poppies, which provide the raw materials for heroin production) and also how this increase in poppy yields on these unregulated desert farms is helping to finance both the Taliban and pro-government warlords.

But I think the more important message is how much agricultural and economic change can be brought about by basic improvements in irrigation systems.

Thanks for watching…

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