Fast-tracking demanddriven sustainable irrigation development to achieve 100,000ha by 2020

Irrigation development in Rwanda is critical in ensuring that the nation attains the set EDPRSII target of 8.5% growth in Agriculture that will in turn boost the overall national GDP. Rwanda inaugurated the Irrigation Master Plan (IMP, 2010) which clearly identified and mapped 589,000ha of potential irrigation areas in Rwanda.


Irrigation development in Rwanda is critical in ensuring that the nation attains the set EDPRSII target of 8.5% growth in Agriculture that will in turn boost the overall national GDP.


Rwanda inaugurated the Irrigation Master Plan (IMP, 2010) which clearly identified and mapped 589,000ha of potential irrigation areas in Rwanda.


In 2014 Rwanda endorsed an irrigation policy whose main vision is to achieve by 2018, a developed irrigation sector that is sustainable, dynamic, efficient, demand driven which will act as the transforming force in the modernization and diversification of agriculture, thus creating national wealth and food security.


The irrigation policy highlighted the major challenges restricting growth of the irrigation sector recapped as; (i) High cost of irrigation development, (ii) Poor organization in schemes, (iii) Small and fragmented private lands not attractive to big investors, (iv) Inadequate capacity (skills and equipment) within public and private sector, (v) Lack of irrigation culture within communities, (vi) Undeveloped and inefficient marketing chain, Poor water use efficiency, Lack of an irrigation policy and strategic plan for irrigation development, and Lack of clear investment portfolios in irrigation development.


Even though MINAGRI has since embarked on some actions to resolve these challenges (eg. inaugurating an irrigation policy, introducing subsidy for private sector development of small scale irrigation systems, extensive training of farmer organizations), a lot still needs to be done to achieve the 100,000ha goal by 2020.

Current status

The current status of the area developed with formal irrigation infrastructure is around 44,000ha comprising nearly 37,000Ha marshlands and 5,000Ha hillside systems. This translates to around 5% of the potential irrigable area in Rwanda and less than 50% of the target set for 2020.

It is clear from these figures that there is need to urgently energize the sector in order to realize the goal of 100,000ha by 2018.


MINAGRI has a Mid-Term (2011- 2018) plan targeting the development of 75,000ha area under irrigation of which 65,000ha will be marshland and 35,000ha hillside Irrigation projects.

To achieve this objective MINAGRI needs to exploit strategic actions  to harness both public and private sector participation in irrigation development.

Empowering Private Sector led development through creation of an Irrigation Revolving Fund


Small Scale Irrigation Technologies (SSIT)

In order to alleviate climate change induced droughts which are now threatening Rwanda’s twin goals of food security and poverty reduction, Rwanda has been obliged to accelerate the development of sustainable, affordable, farmer owned irrigation systems.

The Government of Rwanda, in its Cabinet resolution of 27th July 2014, adopted the Subsidized Farmer led Small Scale Irrigation Development Program whose objective is develop 20,000ha of farmer led; affordable; productive and sustainable small scale irrigation technologies (SSIT) by 2017/18. The uptake of SSIT farming as a business enterprise is expected to lead to increases in crop production and productivity of food and cash crops in Rwanda.

Objectives of the Small Scale Irrigation Technology (SSIT)

Through a Government Subsidy Program of up to 50% of the total required cost, the SSIT program aims to promote widespread use of demand driven, affordable locally assembled Small Scale Irrigation Technologies;

To support Rwandan small scale farmers with simple, effective and affordable irrigation technology in order to increase their crop productivity and also to improve sustainability of irrigation development through farmer based approach

In order to encourage private led irrigation development, the GoR must make available attractive investment opportunities to the private sector, (especially groups of farmers and individual farmers) to invest in irrigation development through creation of a Revolving Irrigation Fund.

The Irrigation Revolving Fund can act as a vehicle through which individuals, cooperatives and other private local investors can access concessionary loans for the development of own irrigation schemes thereby stimulating development of private commercial irrigation projects. Though highlighted as a strategic action in the 2014 Irrigation Policy, this important action is yet to be initiated.


A private sector participatory, co-financing of irrigation development approach, whereby national Government will partner communities through subsidized loans for irrigation development will stimulate interest in investing in the irrigation sector (The innovative SSIT program in which the GoR is offering a pro-rated subsidy of up to 50% to small scale individual farmers who are prepared to invest in irrigation development is a good example of engaging the private individuals in irrigation development and needs expansion to cover large scale commercial projects).

Beneficiaries of Small Scale Irrigation Technology (SSIT)

Beneficiaries of Small Scale Irrigation Technology program are individual farmers and communities, having consolidated land area ranging between 0.5 to 10 hectares, with access to a water source like lakes at least 50 m away or river at least 20 m away, with total pumping not to exceed 5bars pressure requirements. Similarly, special groups like Youths, Young Farmers Clubs (YFC) as well as Cooperatives are encouraged to procure and use the Small Scale Irrigation equipment to make their agriculture commercial and resilient to drought.

Small Scale Irrigation Technology (SSIT) Kits

The small scale irrigation technology includes ready to use 1ha, 5ha, and 10ha complete  sprinkler kit, drip kit, and rain-gun kits with portable diesel/petrol motor pump and pipes and Rain-water harvesting through tanks (plastic and concrete), and dam sheet technologies. The variability in SSIT design and irrigation kit is according to land topography, soils, water availability & storage, and crop productivity.

Current implementation modalities

The Government of Rwanda availed a budget to SSIT as an approved program which is implemented in two ways.

Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) implements and Coordinates SSIT Countrywide where a subsidy of 50% is given to farmers and fund are earmarked to selected Districts while MINAGRI and RAB mobilize farmers to adopt climate resilient methods which include irrigation equipment at a subsidized cost.

Interested farmers submit an application form to RAB or to the district which is obtainable at RAB HQ, RAB ZONES , RAB Centers, District level, Sector Level, Cell Level but also available at MINAGRI and RAB websites.


Applications are received throughout the fiscal year, and the maximum processing time is one month after receipt of the application;

RAB/SSIT staff who are deployed to work closely with the beneficiaries visit the farmers and provide quotation as per the technician recommendations after which RAB issues a letter to approve the demand, then the farmer can pay his contribution per the approved subsidy, after the payment, the supplier presents the proof of payment to RAB and immediately a purchase order is issued to the supplier who supplies the equipment to the farm not later than one week;

After installation a technical team made of SSIT Engineers, monitoring and evaluation staff goes to the field and approves the equipment then the supplier is paid by submitting an invoice to RAB and MINECOFIN makes a payment to the supplier account;

On successful completion of the requirements, the service provider registered with RAB provides warranty of 1 year, and trains the farmer on the operation and management of the irrigation infrastructure.

Professional, Market-driven irrigation sector

The GoR has to pursue a deliberate policy of diversifying production in irrigation schemes through promotion of high value crops (eg. pepper, chilli and garlic).

Setting up associated high value chains infrastructure next to irrigation schemes will guarantee markets and consequently, entice the irrigators to move away from the traditional food security crops into the production of high value crops.

Higher incomes generated from the high value crops will in turn act as a stimulant in theexpansion of existing projects.

Exportable crops like pepper, chilli and garlic and eggplant have consistently shown to have better returns than maize or beans (which are the major crops grown on irrigation projects). Guaranteed better incomes will in turn set the tone for market driven developments and expansion as farmers seek higher incomes.

In the areas where the Government has already made investments, options of leasing the infrastructure to SME/Corporates have to be strengthened. Under a Corporate/ SME model a company is jointly setup by private investors and irrigators of an irrigation scheme for the exploitation of invested public infrastructure.

 The Government has to agree to lease the infrastructures for use by the company/SME under negotiated conditions, and the farmers can lease their land to the SME. The investors bring in matching investment capital.

The resulting SME will utilize the scheme as a commercial farm and shareholders will be paid dividends periodically.

In order to reduce the risks associated with the production process, the Government must set up Sovereign guarantees to buffer the SME from such risks.

With reduced risks and guarantees available, the SME will be able to access loans from financial institutions and thus, attract investors.


Building Comprehensive Capacity to sustain Irrigation Development

A rapid appraisal of the irrigation sector reveals that capacity within all levels is a major hindrance to achieving the set goals of the sector.

Capacity of the sector is the capability of individuals and organisations within the sector to develop manage and use irrigation systems in a sustainable manner.

The current lack of combined coordinated effort by the individualsand organizations to enhance, nurture, and utilize irrigation infrastructure can be attributed to : (i) few numbers of qualified personnel, (ii) lack of requisite skills, (iii) low and demotivating incentives for experienced professionals, (iv) the community’s general lack of appreciation of the opportunities of irrigation (referred in the irrigation policy as a “lack of irrigation culture”), (v) poor irrigation extension service, (vi) an underequipped private sector, and (vii) disengaged local financial institutions.

The GoR needs to embark on a comprehensive capacity development of both individuals and institutions targeting the sector. Such capacity development needs to start with the institutions mandated with spearheading the development of irrigation in Rwanda.

Currently, development in the sector remains mainly segregated and largely unregulated. MINAGRI (the mother Ministry), undertakes irrigation development through transitory programs (eg. the various SPIUs under MINAGRI and RAB).

Cognizant of the importance of the sector for the future growth and modernization of agriculture in Rwanda, institutional structural reforms are recommended. An Irrigation Authority supported by an irrigation law may be recommendable in this aspect.

Such an authority will act as a “one stop shop” for all irrigation development and, will act as the entry point to harness funds, regulate the sector and drive the vision of the sector towards the set goals.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Worldwide (Rwanda is no exception), irrigated agriculture plays a key role in feeding expanding populations and in contributing to economic growth of nations.

It not only raises the yields of crops, but also makes agriculture resilient to climate shocks. The security provided by irrigation – less risk of crop failure – gives the farmers confidence to invest in additional inputs and activities that are needed to intensify production (i.e -pest control, fertilizers, improved seed varieties and better tillage methods).

Due to the persistent lack of enough rain, many districts in the eastern and southern provinces have been hit by prolonged droughts in the season B of 2015/16, therefore, a quick intervention was done through the use of Small Scale Irrigation Technology and it has been applied in different districts to help farmers mostly those in cooperatives with consolidated sites, to irrigate their crops.

Due to this quick intervention, more than 1000Ha of crops including but not limited to, soybean, maize, beans, were saved from drying up during these dry periods.

This has been done in the districts of Nyagatare, Gatsibo, Kayonza, Kirehe, Ngoma, Bugesera, Rwamagana, Kamonyi, Huye, Nyanza, Ruhango and Gisagara.      

Although SSIT Project achieved its 2015/2016 annual target of 2000Ha, performance of this project is still constrained by farmers’ financial ability.

The project works on a subsidy program, where the Government pays for the beneficiary farmer up to 50% of the cost, and the farmer is supposed to pay the remaining 50%. However the challenge is that, many farmers are struggling to pay their 50% cost, and this is limiting the performance of the project.

To address this issue, RAB is trying to link farmers with financial institutions and other private partners who can support and finance SSIT. Mobilization is being done to enable farmers access financial resources for SSIT investment. A MoU has already been signed between RAB, ATLANTIS MF and Service provider.

Four key approaches to promote this paradigm shift towards a demand driven, sustainable irrigation sector, where the Government needs to play a facilitating role can thus be summarised as: a) Creation of a Revolving Irrigation Fund, b) Setting up deliberate high value crops chain infrastructure linked to irrigation developments; c) Setting up irrigation sovereign guarantees to reduce risk in production thus encouraging irrigation related SMEs; d) Building Comprehensive Capacity (both in individuals and institutions) to sustain irrigation development.

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