Boosting Farmers’ Livelihoods With Solar Power

Ibrahim Aboki was born and raised in a community of smallholder farmers, who in Nigeria produce 98% of the nation’s food. It’s a big responsibility, and Ibrahim — an entrepreneur and Microsoft #Insiders4Good Fellow — is on a mission to help make farmers’ livelihoods more secure and prosperous.

“I’m proud of my roots as a farmer,” Ibrahim said. “So after receiving my diploma in renewable energy and having done an internship with a solar company in the urban center of Kano, Nigeria, I started thinking about how renewable energy could help farmers with the challenges they are facing.”

Back in his hometown in the rural state of Bauchi, Ibrahim noticed that farmers were paying a great deal out of pocket to irrigate their crops with petroleum-powered water pumps. With climate change and severe drought affecting the region, Nigerian farmers are becoming increasingly reliant on irrigation, and fluctuating oil prices make it even tougher for farmers to stabilize their earnings.

To tackle this problem, Ibrahim launched Basmalah Enterprises and engaged a mechanical engineering colleague to develop a solar-powered water pump. Fabricating the equipment locally, they developed innovations to ensure that the pumps required fewer solar panels and batteries and wouldn’t overheat during long periods of operation.

Today, Basmalah Enterprise’s solar irrigation service serves around 500 smallholder farmers and saves them 35% on their crop watering costs while reducing carbon pollution in the process. There have been other positive impacts as well.

“We’ve seen the number of farmers in the community increase,” Ibrahim said. “There are many jobless youths who are at risk of falling into socially violent activity—Boko Haram for instance, bedeviling the north-eastern region of Nigeria, where we are based. As a result of our solution, which makes farming more profitable and attractive, we’ve seen such youth take up farming instead.”

Ibrahim envisions serving half of all smallholder farmers in Bauchi within the next year, and half of northeastern Nigeria in the next 3 years. What keeps him going despite the challenges of entrepreneurship?

“I have mentors,” Ibrahim said. “Elder brothers and associates who are always motivating, encouraging, and supporting—telling me that everything in life is possible. There were times that I operated at a loss, but I kept going. And now the business is growing rapidly. I never gave up.”

Ibrahim Aboki was awarded a Microsoft #Insiders4Good Fellowship, part of a new initiative at Microsoft designed to support promising entrepreneurs with extraordinary solutions to social problems.