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SOLAR for SUSTENANCE by EWT Drylands Conservation Programme

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In addition to electricity, utilising runoff and shaded areas on solar farms in drylands can result in new agricultural opportunities.



The past decade has seen a rapid increase in large photovoltaic installations (solar farms) in the rural, arid western and northern parts of South Africa. The electricity they generate is sold to the national supply grid.


Areas where these solar farms are located are characterised by high temperatures, low precipitation and poor economic opportunities. Models predict that rainfall will decrease in the extremely arid western parts of the country as result of climate change. . There will be an increase in extreme events such as high-energy storms, floods and droughts. This will in turn lead to loss of topsoil, siltation of dams, spread of invasive alien plants, and destruction of human infrastructure, which will impact human livelihoods, especially food security.



Many of the photovoltaic companies operating in South Africa are cognisant of their large land footprint and are eager to demonstrate local benefits to communities. They are thus in continual search for attractive and catalytic opportunities to collaborate with communities.


Duel land use options exist (GSES 2015). For example, shaded areas under solar panels in such facilities provide microclimates in which it is possible to plant fodder for animals, or even agricultural crops for humans.


Precipitation runoff from the panels can also be collected and stored, providing augmented irrigation water for crops. This type of diversified land use in solar farms is referred to as “solar sharing”.


While this type of agricultural innovation is practiced under photovoltaic installations in countries such as the United States (Bloomberg 2016), Germany (Hanley 2017) and Australia (GSES 2015), the approach has not yet been pursued in South Africa.


We intend to create an enabling environment for this concept in South Africa, which can ultimately be rolled out further within South Africa and elsewhere on the African continent. This will result in climate smart, small-scale opportunities and benefits for communities.

What actions do you propose?


The EWT believes that sustainable conservation requires inclusive approaches, to not only address biodiversity objectives, but also the interests of the people and industries relying on ecosystem goods and services. This we do by developing innovative and adaptive conservation and management solutions, aligned and compatible with the broader economic and social imperatives of the region.


The EWT also adheres to the Sustainable Development Goals and believes that this project aligns with the following Goals:

  • Goal 1: No poverty
  • Goal 2: Zero hunger
  • Goal 5: Gender Equality
  • Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy
  • Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth
  • Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production
  • Goal 13: Climate action
  • Goal 15: Life on land


We propose creating an enabling environment for the implementation of duel land use practices on solar farms. As this approach has not yet been tried in South Africa, considerable ground work needs to be conducted prior to pilot projects, or full-scale projects, being implemented. Stakeholders need to be brought on board and the complexities of such an arrangement clarified.


In addition to the immediate benefits of providing grazing fodder and/or edible crops to farmers, as well as the collection of water runoff from the solar panels, this project also addresses social protection measures through ‘labour market interventions’. The provision of duel land use options on solar farms will assist local communities with job security, improved livelihoods and more diverse livelihood options. Furthermore, participating farmers will receive training in a range of farming and business skills. This proactive approach will enable local communities to be better prepared in the event of severe climatic events (Béné et al. 2014; Ulrichs 2016).


Although the concept of farming crops under photovoltaic power generating facilities is not new, the practice has not been integrated into facilities in South Africa.


We know that solar companies are eager to demonstrate local benefit to communities. We believe that this intent will underpin the sustainability of duel use on solar farms should this project be successful.


This project aims to create an enabling environment for the implementation of this approach through the implementation of the following actions:


Action 1: Develop draft best practice guidelines for duel land use options on solar farms situated in arid areas in both South Africa, and further afield. This document will expand on our existing literature search (for example, and outline aspects that need to be taken into consideration when setting up such an operation, including factors such as the identification of stakeholders, legal considerations, identification of communities and individual farmers for involvement in the operation, safety considerations, suitable crops and/or alternative activities such as water collection.


Action 2: Consult with photovoltaic companies on an individual basis regarding practical considerations (e.g. security concerns) that need to be taken into account for such operations to go ahead. These consultations will also provide a good indication of the willingness of solar companies to participate, and ultimately the identification of a solar company to implement the project. This step will also enable the identification of potential advisors and collaborators (locally and internationally) who can be approached for participation in later roll-out phases of this project.


Action 3: Investigate the legal considerations that need to be taken into account for such an operation to go ahead. For example, what form of contracts would need to be in place between the photovoltaic company and the communities farming at solar farms?


Action 4: Identify and engage local communities regarding their willingness to participate in such a venture, determine what support they would need (e.g. assistance with the transport of water collected and/or crops harvested), and what selection criteria could be applied for the selection of farmers. For example, experience and gender of farmers.



Action 5: Facilitate discussions between suitable communities and willing solar farm companies to enable a joint venture for future implementation of duel land use on solar farms. This will include various considerations that have been identified in Actions, 1, 2, 3 & 4.


Action 6: Assist communities and companies (described above) to develop and workshop an operation manual, tailor-made to the individual solar farm. This will form part of future agreements between the parties and ensure common understanding and readiness around implementation of the duel land use.


The EWT is an accredited training provider registered with the Culture Art Tourism Hospitality and Sports Sector Education and Training Authority (CATHSSETA), the national nature conservation sector education training authority.


Action 7: Implement sound project management and evaluation. . The EWT considers this an on-going activity throughout the life of the project. The EWT has sound quality management systems in place for all its projects and is audited annually.


Action 8: Hand over further development and implementation of the project to solar company and community.

Who will take these actions?

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), founded in 1973, is a South African non-governmental, non-profit, citizen organisation which has worked tirelessly for over 45 years to save wildlife and habitats, with our vision being a world in which both humans and wildlife prosper in harmony with nature.


The EWT fills its key niche through applied field work, research and direct engagement with stakeholders through specialist programmes and a large team of skilled field staff deployed throughout southern Africa. The EWT today has a staff of more than 90 people and projects focus on a range of threatened species and ecosystems, capacity building, training and conservation career development, policy analysis and legislation development, human?wildlife conflict prevention and mitigation of a range of threats to environmental health and sustainability.


The EWT will appoint a project manager who will manage all aspects of the project, as well as implement the actions described above. The project manager will be assisted by an in-house administrator.


Our project manager will be suitably skilled to negotiate with companies as well as gaining the trust of communities. The project manager will have strong innovation and problem solving abilities.

Where will these actions be taken?

The EWT has a strategic partnership with South Africa’s national energy provider, Eskom, and will draw on this 21-year old relationship to enter into consultation with photovoltaic companies for participation in this project. Multiple solar energy installations are operational in the Western and Northern Cape, South Africa. These include localities near the towns of De Aar, Montagu and Upington.


Meetings will be arranged at a mutually acceptable space. For example, meetings with communities will take place at the locale of the tribal authorities. Meetings with the management of photovoltaic companies will take place in a large town (e.g. Kimberley) or city (e.g. Johannesburg or Cape Town).


The EWT is fortunate to have conference facilities available at both their Johannesburg and Cape Town offices, which offer audio-visual material and in-house caterers. These will be used to host the stakeholder workshops should they be held in Johannesburg and/or Cape Town.

What are other key benefits?

  • The production of best practice guidelines and a training manual guiding the implementation of dual land use options at solar farms to facilitate implementation by others.
  • Gathering critical information for adaptive farming practices in drylands.
  • Documenting the criteria, and range thereof, that need to be taken into consideration when implementing dual land use systems at solar farms. This includes both the community and infrastructure perspectives.
  • Providing an enabling environment for the generation of community benefits from photovoltaic installations.
  • Developing a model, which is capable of being replicated at scale across other installations in the drylands area.
  • Promoting the application as a replicable climate risk mitigation approach,
  • Creating opportunities for photovoltaic companies to spend their social investment funds on site, and identifying stakeholders interested in pursuing such activities.
  • Augmentation of livelihoods and local economic development.

What are the proposal’s costs?

A broad overview of the budget is as follows:

- Contribution to salary of project manager and administrator $22,000

- Equipment (laptop) $2,000

- Transportation $4,500

- Communication costs $   1 500

- Best practice guidelines production costs $1,000

- Workshop costs $1,000

- Community engagement costs $1,500

- Project and financial management costs $6,000

Total  $39,500

There are few anticipated negatives to this project. The overall aim is to develop an enabling environment by gaining buy in to the broader concept from all relevant stakeholders. Communities stand to benefit from increased livelihood options, the solar farms benefit from increased demonstration of social responsibility, and the environment stands to benefit by the fact that already transformed land is being used for agricultural activities.

Likely concerns from solar farms will be security risks on the site of the solar farms, and the risk posed by fires from increased grass/fuel load. The EWT sees these as issues that require creative thinking for the development of practical solutions, and not as limitations/negatives to the success of the project.  Training participating farmers from local communities may solve issues such as security and fire risks.

Time line

Work on this project can commence as soon as funding becomes available. Developing the enabling environment phase of the project is not bound to certain times in the way that a pilot study or roll out phase would be, as these would be bound by growing seasons. The proposed timeline for the project is presented below covering a 9-month period.


Action 1 – Develop best practice guidelines (Months 1 to 3 and month 6)

Action 2 – Consultation with photovoltaic companies (Month 2 to 6)

Action 3 – Investigation of legal considerations (Month 3 and 4)

Action 4 –Identify and engage local communities (Month 4 to 6)

Action 5 – Facilitate community company negotiations (Month 7 to 9)

Action 6 – Workshops to develop and train on operational manual (Month 9 to 11)

Action 7 – Implement project management (Month 1 to 12)

Action 8 – Project handover (Month 12)

This component of the overall project is intended to lay the enabling environment necessary for the implementation of duel land use projects at solar farms.  Once the ground work is laid, short term projects will entail selecting a community with which to conduct a pilot study.  Either crops will be grown at the solar farms site, or grazing fodder will be grown. In the short to medium term, the project can be rolled out further afield within South Africa.  As the project is rolled out, different types of livestock and/or crops may be involved depending on the local climate and ecology. Some experimentation may be needed here to determine the best crops and reduction of risks to solar farms (i.e. fire risk grazing fodder).  The medium to long term will see the roll out of this project in South Africa's neighbours, and perhaps even further afield.

Related proposals

No directly relevant proposals were found but some overlap in terms of community involvement or activities on solar farms.


Béné, C. et al. (2014), “Social Protection and Climate Change”, OECD Development Co-operation Working Papers, No. 16, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Bloomberg, JR. 2016. Solar power more lucrative than crops at some US farms. Renewable Energy World.

GSES. 2015. Utility Scale Solar: Dual purpose land use opportunities. Global Sustainable Energy Solutions.

Hanley, S. 2017. Combining solar panels with agriculture makes land more productive. Clean Technica.

Ulrichs, M. 2016. Increasing people’s resilience through social protection. Braced Resilience Intel. Issue 3, May 2016.