When 30-year-old Charity Nishimwe, a member of a group of farmers, arrived at the Mahama refugee camp from Burundi, she never expected to continue farming, as many refugees relied on aid. However, challenges related to the decrease in basic services and aid for refugees in Rwanda sprung up, and she had to think about other ways to boost livelihood, such as agriculture. After a long stay at the camp, she connected with a refugee agriculture cooperative that farms along the banks of the Akagera River where she acquired a plot for farming. “Life became even more challenging when the World Food Programme announced a cut in aid. Every refugee started thinking about becoming self-reliant, and farming was what I wanted to do the most,” she said. She grew cabbages, onions, and green peppers but things did not go well at first due to soil erosion and dry spells in the area. “Severe droughts mainly affected our yields; vegetables are very sensitive to droughts, and irrigating from the Akagera River is very risky. Our farming practices were not productive, we could only grow crops in the rainy season,” she noted. Such woes affected them for some time, but later, they found a solution, thanks to a climate-resilient project introduced by Practical Action, an NGO, alongside the Ministry of Disaster Management, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the UNHCR. ALSO READ: Nyabiheke: How economic inclusion of refugees has improved livelihoods, self-reliance The project offers a community-managed micro-irrigation system to enhance food security in the Mahama refugee camp and the host community. Today, Nishimwe and fellow farmers are no longer solely dependent on rain-fed agriculture. They can now grow a wider variety of crops throughout the year. The irrigation system extracts water from the Akagera River, pumping it through a network of pipes to irrigate farmlands. According to refugees, this has significantly increased vegetable crop yields and provided a reliable source of income for both the refugee camp and the host community, while also helping them combat malnutrition. “I grew cabbages and tomatoes, which I irrigated using the solar-powered system; unlike before, I have registered surplus yields because of the irrigation. I increased the supplies of vegetables for malnourished children in the neighbourhood in the camp, and it is helping,” said Albert Niyonkuru, another refugee practicing farming in the Mahama refugee camp. In addition to the irrigation system, refugees practicing farming have learned how to make pesticides and organic fertilisers. These techniques, according to farmers, have helped reduce expenses associated with traditional farming practices. Also, a trained team from within the refugee community was educated on maintaining the infrastructure in case of damage. ALSO READ: Over 6,000 refugees ‘safely resettled’ from Rwanda in 2023 “I could spend more than Rwf 50,000 on manual labour during irrigation, but now with the solar-powered irrigation system, I will save a significant amount of money because the charges will be deducted from the harvest,” Niyonkuru said. Powered by solar panels with a capacity of 245 kilowatts, the system pumps at least 43 cubic metres of water every hour. All farmers practicing vegetable farming on 10 hectares in Mahama refugee camp can irrigate their crops using this solar-powered irrigation system. Eric Mutabazi, the refugee technical advisor at the Ministry in charge of Emergency Management, emphasised the need for refugees to take care of and protect the infrastructure for sustainable farming practices that will benefit both the refugees and host communities in Kirehe. The cutting of aid for refugees, where the World Food Programme targets the most vulnerable refugees, has led to more than 100 refugees working in agriculture to supplement the limited aid they receive. With the available solar-powered irrigation, the refugees said that the system has lasting multiple benefits because it contributes to poverty reduction, enhances biodiversity, and also builds climate resilience in their area. According to Denise Umubyeyi, the country director of Practical Action, the climate-resilient irrigation system, implemented two years ago, addresses concerns about severe droughts and is worth over Rwf 200 million. “It has a huge transformative impact on the growth and poverty reduction among smallholder farmers in the Mahama refugee camp and host communities; a system where renewable energy access enables inclusive economic activity; this is a pilot phase; we will expand it in other refugee camps and host communities.” The aid that refugees receive is reduced to Rwf 8,500 monthly from Rwf 10,000 for category one beneficiaries, while those in the second category receive Rwf 4,250 per person instead of Rwf 5,000. Mahama refugee camp currently houses more than 60,000 refugees on over 170 hectares with 6,900 family shelters. Children under 18 years of age make up half of the population in the camp.