Farmers in Bugesera District have, over the years, been adversely affected by climate change, especially drought, which withers their crops before or soon after flowering.
Yet the farmers as well as local officials and agriculture experts contend that the district has a number of lakes that could be efficiently utilised for irrigation to cushion farmers from the biting drought and increase their yield.
Bugesera is endowed with nine lakes, covering an estimated surface area of 10,635 hectares, the biggest of which are Rweru and Cyohoha on top of large swathes of land covered by the Nyabarongo Marshland.
There is now good news for the district’s agriculture prospects, at least going by some 11,495 farmers who have been empowered to be resilient against climate change so as to overcome food shortages.
The farmers are beneficiaries of Bugesera Region Natural Rural Infrastructure Support Project (PAIRB), a Rwf16-billion project that was implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI).
The six-year project, which ran from 2011 to December 2016, was funded by African Development Bank (AfDB). The project had specific objective to contribute to food security through increased agricultural productivity.
The project coordinator, Dr Michel Ngarambe, said farm and livestock produce doubled or more than tripled on some crops, thanks to the project.
Ngarambe, who was peaking from Bugesera during the closure of the project on Thursday, said the district should tap into its natural resource –water – to provide irrigation for their crops.
“We taught farmers not to depend on rain-fed agriculture, rather make use of the lakes available in the district,” he said.
Ngarambe said they provided equipment that enable hillside irrigation using water from the lakes.
“Now, many farmers are happy that they are getting produce even during dry season and we hope they will continue to harvest without reliance on rain,” he said.
Sylvestre Kabengera, a cassava farmer and the president of Bugesera Farm Facilitator Cooperative (KOABUGE), said he has now reached a level to practice commercial farming from subsistence agriculture, hence getting more produce and earning more revenue from farming.
He grows cassava on a two-hectare piece of land.
“Normally, we would harvest between 10 and 15 tonnes per hectare, but last year, after the modern farming interventions from the project, I harvested between 35 and 40 tonnes per hectare,” Kabengera said, adding that they got skills on how to control pests using assorted herbal sprays.
He said farmers acquired subsidised irrigation equipment.
Jean-Leonard Bwanakweli, a banana farmer and multiplier in Musenyi Sector, said he used to harvest a bunch of bananas weighing 25 kilogrammes, but after the project interventions, he harvests one weighing 140 kilogrammes.
Bugesera Mayor Emmanuel Nsanzumuhire said the project equipped with its beneficiaries with irrigation technologies that enable them to water their crops, which ensures their produce regardless of drought or rain, adding that the district will continue to support farmers to sustain those gains as they help people combat poverty.
PAIRB’s Ngarambe said the project provided 116 irrigation kits, under use currently, and other 168 kits which were given to the district to distribute among the beneficiaries.
He said irrigation kit that can irrigate between two to three hectares of farmland is about Rwf1.5 million.
AfDB representative, Joseph Nyirimana, commended the Government for enabling effective implementation of the project ofr the benefit of people’s welfare.
“There is where the project made achievements beyond expectations,” he said, citing the 400 hectares of farmland that were irrigated against the target of only 100 hectares.
The MINAGRI Permanent Secretary, Jean Claude Kayisinga, said the beneficiary farmers have acquired silks and infrastructure and should make the most of them to carry out modern and professional farming which uses improved seeds and fertilisers, urging them to target exports.
The project partnered with Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) to help farmers increase agriculture produce through training them in modern farming, disease and pest control, and seed multiplication.
The skills are transferred through farmer field schools (FFSs) and so far, 278 FFSs based on various crops including cassava, banana, maize and rice. About 6,372 farmers of which 3,518 are male and 2,854 females got trained under those FFSs.
To facilitate farmers’ access to water for irrigation, the project developed 75.3-kilometre network water channels for various water sources, which officials said need to be regularly maintained by beneficiaries so that they continue to be operational.
To help the farmers get manure, the project offered 1,600 cows to vulnerable families in line with Girinka programme, and 400 heifers were passed on to other beneficiaries, Ngarambe said. It also provided 1,395 goats to needy families.
According to figures from RAB, there are about 45,000 hectares being irrigated in the country and 19,000 hectares which are planned for irrigation from this financial year through 2018. The Government targets to irrigate 100,000 hectares by 2020.