Getting the Most Out of the Sun: Agrovoltaic farming, Agroforestry, and the Third World
A group of researchers in Montpelier, France have developed a new system of farming called agrovoltaic agriculture. This system makes it possible to use the sunlight shining onto fields to simultaneously grow food and produce electricity. The electricity can be used to power homes, workplaces, and even as a source of extra income.
Agrovoltaic farming can even be used on small plots of land, such as marginal plots that abut houses and rural buildings.
It sounds illogical and even crazy at first…putting solar panels into fields. Wouldn’t the solar panels block the sunlight from reaching the crops below? The simple answer is no. The researchers learned through experimentation that by arranging solar panels at an optimum spacing and height, crops can still flourish underneath. In the hot and dry conditions at the test site, the crops even grew better than normal because the added shade helped the soil retain water.
It’s often thought that fields can be used for only one crop at a time, but farmers like researcher Christian Dupraz are demonstrating that fields can and should be used for multiple purposes simultaneously. Before agro-voltaic farming, Dupraz helped to promote a new form of farming call agroforestry.
Instead of cutting down trees, proponents of agroforestry recommend strategically planting trees that can be beneficial for the crops in their fields. Trees can do many things: provide barriers from strong winds, keep crops from drying out in the intense sun of hot climates, help soils retain water and nitrogen, as well as create nesting spots for birds that eat harmful insects.
In February of this year, India hosted the World Congress of Agroforestry, attended by 1,000 delegates from over 80 countries. India has become a global leader in agroforestry, and it recently established a comprehensive policy on agroforestry by setting a goal to increase India’s tree cover to 33%, up from less than 25% now.
These innovative practices being developed by researchers and farmers in India and France are exciting because they provide creative, non-industrial solutions to agricultural and climate change issues. These solutions are not one-size fits all models, but allow farmers to tailor innovative ideas to local ecological conditions.