Portfolio Learning

Improving accessibility of productive-use solar products

Man with Sunculture solar irrigation system waterin plants

Solar irrigation has many benefits such as supporting energy access, food security, poverty alleviation, climate adaptation and mitigation, as well as responsible water resource management.  However, the technology has faced challenges in its wide adoption by smallholder farmers in Africa who contribute up to 70% of the food supply on the continent.

Technical and financial support

A key reason for this reluctance is the affordability for these farmers who have uncertain cash flows and do not have access to formal banking services which makes it difficult for them to afford solar irrigation services.

To address this challenge, Shell Foundation has partnered with social enterprise SunCulture on several levels, including providing technical and financial support. SunCulture uses proprietary off-grid solar technology to effectively tackle obstacles experienced by smallholder farmers.

An example of this support is the assistance provided in the development of SunCulture’s “Pay-As-You-Grow” financing product, where customers pay a small initial deposit followed by monthly instalments, making the company’s products more affordable and addressing the historical lack of formal financing opportunities.

Impact of support

This support helped drive SunCulture’s growth, from selling fewer than 500 units annually up until 2017, to outfitting more than 40,000 smallholder farmers across eight countries to date. At the impact level, SunCulture’s work has led to:

  • 87% of customers reported increased earnings compared since using the system.
  • 90% reporting an increased or very much increased production level.
  • 83% reporting improved productivity.
  • 89% of customers reporting an improved quality of life.

As well as this, SunCulture has established a distribution partnership with Bboxx-EDF (another SF partner), a data-driven platform that connects consumers and deploys innovative products across Africa, to scale. The partnership between SunCulture and Bboxx sees SunCulture as the technology supplier and training provider with Bboxx-EDF acting as the distributor.


The partnership, which was funded by Shell Foundation and FCDO through its Catalysing Agriculture by Scaling Energy Ecosystems (CASEE) programme has so far led to the installation of 3,581 solar irrigation systems for smallholder farmers across Togo.

Learn how this was made possible and the roles each partner played to improve affordability of the solar irrigation systems by reading the full report.

Read the full report