Meet the Global Problem Solver: Oorja

Providing a scalable and sustainable community-based solution to the irrigation crisis in India.

The problem: Lack of affordable irrigation in rural India

  • In India, over 10 million diesel groundwater pumps are used for irrigation—a huge recurring expense for farmers
  • Diesel surface pumps often cannot extract water during hot months when the ground water levels drop, thus limiting farmers’ ability to grow a third crop
  • Because of lack of affordable, year-round irrigation, farmers face limited crop yields, failed crops, and very few opportunities to increase their incomes though growing high-value crops
  • Solar pumps are a viable alternative, but over 90% of farmers have very small landholding and can’t afford the investment

Replacing diesel engines, using energy as a catalyst for economic development and creation of jobs, and combating climate change—these are the three core elements of our mission. The Oonnati model is our first service-based innovation in the irrigation space, helping smallholder farmers to switch durably from diesel to affordable solar irrigation and boost their income from agriculture.

Dr. Clementine Chambon, CTO and Co-Founder, Oorja

The solution: Oonnati community solar pumping system

Oorja finances, installs, and operates pay-as-you-go community solar pumps, each for shared use by 15 to 20 marginal farmers. Farmers access year-round affordable irrigation as a service—known as Oonnati—and there is no upfront cost to them, enabling any farmer to benefit from solar pumping.

In three pilots in rural India, small farmers saw their expenses on irrigation decrease by 20% and started to sow high-value crops such as peppermint, with an expectation of doubling annual income from agriculture. Access to Oonnati leads to improved livelihoods and local job creation.

Oorja is now developing an IoT-based solution to remotely monitor solar assets and manage payments and data.

Oorja was the Grand Prize Winner in the 2019 Global Problem Solver Challenge, which recognises entrepreneurs like Clementine who are using technology to address a social or environmental problem.


Meet Oorja

The Oorja team is small but mighty, and is growing to meet the goal of providing a scalable and sustainable solution across rural India.

Your turn

See how Cisco is supporting other young social entrepreneurs like Clementine through the annual Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge.