Rwanda looks to Japan for sustainable irrigation schemes

An irrigation system in a soybean plantation in Nasho, Kirehe District. / Sam Ngendahimana

As Rwanda scales up efforts to increase irrigated farmland, it is seeking to learn from the Japanese on building effective and sustainable irrigation schemes, the Director-General of Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) has said.

Dr Patrick Karangwa was speaking on Friday, November 15, 2019, in Kigali during the second meeting of the Joint Coordinating Committee (JCC), a project for Water Management and Capacity Building in Rwanda.


The project is supported by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).


Karangwa said that sometimes important irrigation schemes are being set up in districts, but after some time [about two years] their yield starts diminishing owing to the lack of proper maintenance or management.


The project, which was launched in April 2019, seeks to improve the capacity of irrigation scheme management in the model sites in three districts of Ngoma, Rwamagana and Gisagara.

The practices will be rolled out in other parts of the country, he added.

Although operation and maintenance of the developed irrigation schemes are expected to be transferred from the government to farmers’ cooperatives, the project developers argue that they lack capacity such as know-how and financial means to manage them effectively.

Agriculture production in Rwanda heavily depends on rainfall with only 3 per cent of arable land under irrigation, which poses a threat to sustainable farming practices.

Increasing irrigated acreage

Karangwa said that so far irrigated farmland in the country is estimated at 53,000 hectares.

The target is to double the irrigated acreage to 102,000 hectares within the next five years – by 2024.

Through WAMCAB, Karangwa said, Japan is bringing in its expertise in training and supporting water users’ organisations – mainly farmers – to utilise water from dams, and be able to cover some of the maintenance costs for major irrigation projects that the government sets up.

“Japanese say they have reached a level where water users’ organisations and local administrative entities are able to set up irrigation infrastructures and expand irrigated land without reliance on central government’s support because they have a way to collect fees charged on water use from already existing irrigation facilities,” he said.

“That is the know-how we want to learn from them,” he said.

An estimated 50,000 farmers are expected to benefit directly from WAMCAB project, said Norio Kuniyasu, WAMCAB Chief Advisor for Irrigation Policy.

Kuniyasu indicated that the project will cover almost 15,000 hectares in three districts selected as model areas, which are namely Rwamagana and Ngoma (in Eastern Province) and Gisagara District (in Southern Province).

“The main problem of the farmer is lack of water. So, in order to provide enough water to the farmer, we would like to improve the capacity of the water users’ organisation in order to increase the volume of the water,” Kuniyasu said.

“Once farmers get enough water, they can produce not only maize, but also more valuable crops like tree tomatoes, and any other fruits and vegetables. And by doing so, they can increase income from the sales of their produce,” he said. 

Kuniyasu said that farmers will have to pay a reasonable fee for the water they have used so as to enable water users’ organisation to run operations including maintenance of irrigation schemes.

“Through the exercise of our project, we would like to calculate the more realistic and practical price of the water fee [to be paid by the farmer],” he said.

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