Rwanda requires up to Rwf4 trillion to irrigate about 600,000 hectares of land out of estimated 1.5 million hectares of cultivatable land in the country, according to Rwanda Agriculuture Board (RAB).
Currently, the number of farmers using irrigation technology is estimated at 1.1 per cent of the total number of farmers in the country which equals to 75 per cent of the entire population, according Innocent Nzeyimana, head of land husbandry, irrigation and mechanisation at RAB.
Nzeyimana said the recent prolonged droughts in some part of the country is making irrigation the only response to address the effects of climate change.
However, the challenge is the high cost associated with irrigation system and the management of available water resource. Some fields are far from water bodies, farmers say, which makes them unable to irrigate their crops as pumping water becomes too expensive.
According to figures from the Rwanda Natural Resources Authority (RNRA), the renewable water resources availability (in water bodies such as lakes and rivers as well as rain) per annum in Rwanda is 6.8 billion cubic metres (m3), while ground water recharge is estimated at 4.5 billion m3 per annum.
As per the water use assumptions by a Consultancy Services for Development Of Rwanda National Water Resources Master Plan Final Report, published in 2014, irrigation from surface or groundwater resource is estimated at between 6,000 m³/hectare per year for areas in western parts of the country, and 8,000 m³ per hectare per year for the east.
Speaking to Saturday Times, Nzeyimana said, since 2010, Rwanda started putting more efforts in irrigation both for marshland and upland.
He said the cost of irrigation per hectare is estimated at between Rwf10 million and Rwf12 million.
Presently, Nzeyimana said, about 43,611 hectares of land, including 35,149 hectares of marshlands, are under irrigation.
Nzeyimana said the Government, in collaboration with partners, has been investing in large scale irrigation schemes involving big infrastructures (centre pivots system, water pumping system). Farmers later take over the developed schemes for exploitation.
Small scale irrigation
Nzeyimana said the Government has embarked on assisting and encouraging farmers through the Small Scale Irrigation Programme to use water harvesting techniques, where they can harvest and store rainwater, which they can use for irrigation.
This initiative is being implemented through public-private partnership (PPP) whereby farmers get irrigation equipment, such as rain guns, water pumps, pipes and dam sheets whose cost is subsidised, at 50 per cent by the government, from private entrepreneurs.
The president of Maize Farmers’ Federation, Evariste Tugirinshuti, told Saturday Times that the subsidy programme is good but there are some aspects that need more support from the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI).
“When farmers need the equipment, private entrepreneurs sell at such high prices that many would-be beneficiaries of the 50 per cent government subsidy just give up instead,” he said.
Isaac Nzabonimpa, president of potato farmers cooperatives’ federation, said they face the issue of lack of water near their fields.
Vincent de Paul Kabalisa, head of water resources at Rwanda Natural Resources Authority, told Saturday Times that there is need to look at irrigation in context of catchment with other users, including livestock.
“We need to store enough water for all users including irrigation, livestock and human consumption,” he said.
“Irrigating scheme is costly and this needs to take into consideration the return you get from the crops you invested in. An irrigation project should be ideally implemented with economic, social and environmental benefits.”
Nzeyimana said, with sound management, irrigation schemes are very profitable since they are not relying on seasonal rains.
“It gives the farmer a bigger opportunity to profit from agriculture. There is no doubt about the profit as a farmer will optimise production. But the real profit of an irrigation scheme needs a thorough cost benefit analysis before developing the scheme.”
The Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources, Dr Gerardine Mukeshimana, said Rwanda has been sending students abroad to persue studies in irrigation and agriculture mechanisation in a bid to prevent reliance on foreign experts in these agriculture hard sciences.