The government has said that the high cost of irrigation, land fragmentation as well as encroachment of land designated for farming activities by construction projects, have hindered irrigation targets, calling for a review.
The revelations was made last week as officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources met parliamentarians
MP Albert Ruhakana said that in the 2017/2018 fiscal year, the target was to irrigate 100,000 hectares of farmland, which he said was overambitious.
According to figures from the ministry, only 50,000 hectares are currently catered for by irrigation schemes countrywide.
“The target of 2024 is to irrigate 102,000 hectares. Why is the expectation of 2017 targeted to be realised in 2024? We should analyse the issue to exactly know the challenges that slowed the progress to achieve the target in 2017,” he said.
The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources, Jean Claude Musabyimana, said that the country’s irrigation master plan is being revised because of many reasons.
The master plan, he said, shows that Rwanda has national irrigation potential of nearly 600, 000ha.
The master plan was designed to deal with challenges related to drought.
“As there was no major irrigation scheme roll-out programme in the country, to which we could refer to know the exact funds that it would require compared to how much we could get, available techniques, as well as linking the irrigation requirements and the state of settlement, there were irrigation activities which were theoretically considered practical,” he said.
But today, he said, there are cases where vast farmland, which could facilitate irrigation activities like retaining water to be distributed among people to water crops, have been used for construction projects.
“If we have a project to irrigate 5,000 hectares, and we have some farms of 0.2 hectares each, it means that we are going to deal with thousands of farmers in order to execute it, and each has their own expectation, living conditions, land management as well as mind-set different from the others. To get a formula to meet their needs, requires time and it is challenging,” he said.
“That is why we revised down the targets under the new programme, such that we can irrigate about 9,000 hectares per year which we think is feasible,” he said.
The MPs’ push for sustainable irrigation is informed by cases of drought which threaten to erode the country’s gains in food production, they said.
Kellen Busingye, a farmer and president of a cooperative of maize growers in Rurenge Sector of Nyagatare District, Eastern Province, invested about Rwf500,000 in farming, including fertilisers to grow maize on three hectares in October 2017. She was expecting to harvest in February 2018.
However, she told The New Times that drought completely destroyed her maize field. She did not harvest anything on the same farmland (three hectares) where she could have got between 13 and 16 tonnes.
“The only possible solution to the drought issue so far is to carry out effective irrigation,” she said.
She calls for affordable technologies to build resilience during drought periods.
She said the cost of irrigation was higher in Rwanda than in other regional countries mainly because of the hilly terrain.