This year, however, Banphot will earn an extra 30,000 Thai Baht, or US $675, from the mangoes and bananas that he's growing on his land, and from the fish that he's raising in his new pond. The water that fills the pond and irrigates Banphot's crops comes from a newly built station that pumps water from distant holding pools. The pump is powered by sunlight
"Thanks to the pump, we no longer have to worry if the rains will come late," Banphot says, "We can even grow rice in the dry season."
Almost all of Banphot's neighbors are farmers who suffered from the lack of rain before the solar pump was completed. The farmers tried to supplement their incomes by growing fruits and vegetables after their yearly rice crop, but the sparse precipitation left their wells and ponds dry and their harvests meager. Because expenses were high and production was low, many households in the region fell into deep debt.
With the pumping station providing water after the end of the rainy season, however, Banphot and other local farmers can produce two or three crops per year. This off-season agriculture enables Banphot and about 20 other families in his community to secure extra income and food, send their children to school and make repairs on their houses.
The pumping system was installed by the Na Kham Tambol Adminsitrative Organization with funds provided by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). The system draws water up to elevated tanks from the holding pools, which fill during the rainy season. Gravity then brings the water down through pipes to the small ponds of individual families.
The project's managers had first intended to borrow a diesel pump for the station from the government's Royal Irrigation Department. But after consulting with GEF and its Small Grants Programme, they decided to construct the solar pump as a demonstration of how such power can be used in rural development projects. Although the solar pump was much more expensive than a diesel model, the community will save in the long run on fuel costs and avoid contributing to carbon build-up in the atmosphere.
The pumping station that brings water to Banphot's community is one of almost 150 non-governmental organization projects supported to date by the Small Grants Programme in Thailand. The programme works with a committee of voluntary representatives from NGOs and community-based organizations, environmental experts and government officials to develop programmes, select projects and to monitor and evaluate ongoing projects. The group receives administrative support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) country office in Bangkok.
Projects like the Issan solar water pumping station - which take innovative approaches to issues of water and food shortages - will be featured at the United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development, which will be held from 26 August to 4 September in Johannesburg. The summit will bring together world leaders, non-governmental organizations, businesses and other groups to discuss ways to improve people's lives while conserving the world's natural resources.