Proper water management presents huge potential for agriculture – experts

In the 2017 agriculture season A, which started from September 2016 until February 2017, Eugene Ntagengerwa lost about 90 per cent of his harvest owing to drought.
A farmer irrigates his garden. / File
A farmer irrigates his garden. / File

In the 2017 agriculture season A, which started from September 2016 until February 2017, Eugene Ntagengerwa lost about 90 per cent of his harvest owing to drought.

The Bugesera-based farmer grows maize, beans and vegetables on a 10-hectare piece of land (through crop rotation approach).


He testifies that his harvest per hectare for maize increased from three tonnes to five and six tonnes, thanks to planting of improved seeds and fertiliser application.


However, he expressed concern over drought that is undoing his efforts, stressing the need for an effective irrigation system that can reduce dependence on rains.


Yet, his field is near Cyohoha Sud Lake in Bugesera District – just some 50 metres from the lake, meaning that he can easily irrigate his crops once he has requisite equipment.

He has maize and beans supply contracts with local organisations.

Though a kilogramme of maize costs about Rwf300 at the local market, he sells is at Rwf500 because he is engaged in maize seed multiplication, he says.

Ntagengerwa has been using a pump and watering can to irrigate his crops.

But such a system is only helpful for vegetables, and not for such crops as maize and beans which grow higher because “you cannot manage to drop water onto each high crop on, say, an entire hectare.”

Irrigation, he said, is still challenging because farmers do not have required equipment to supply water onto their fields.

“If I got a rain gun technology, it can help me effectively irrigate my crops and plant on time without relying on rain, and get consequently good harvest,” he says.

He noted that there is need for government subsidy in farming and affordable loans.

Ntagengerwa was speaking to The New Times on the sidelines of a workshop on irrigation, in Kigali, earlier this week.

It was held under the theme “Investing in agricultural water management: a way to reduce rural poverty and improve food security in Rwanda” and organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Experts in agricultural water management from FAO, International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), governmental institutions, research entities, development agencies and NGOs from Rwanda attended the three-day workshop in Kigali from March 29 to 31.

Participants sought to map and assess the potential of water investments for poverty reduction in the country.

They discussed the suitability of small-scale irrigation technologies which have been identified as key to reducing rural poverty in the country: river diversion schemes, soil and water conservation, rainwater harvesting, and groundwater development.

The workshop was organised under auspices of a project “More effective and sustainable investments in water for poverty reduction.”

Experts charted ways to improve food security and reduce poverty among smallholder farmers through technical support to enhance the quality, impact and sustainability of water investments.

The $2 million project involves six African countries, namely; Rwanda, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mali, Niger and Tanzania. It promotes sharing of experiences among the beneficiary countries.

FAO country representative to Rwanda, Attaher Maiga, said that “access to water for agriculture is key to many small-scale farmers in order to sustain their livelihoods and food security. Running such farming systems is still extremely challenging for small farmers, and water is a critical limiting factor.”

According to FAO, Rwanda’s agriculture mainly depends upon rainfall, with only 1.6 per cent of farmers practicing irrigation.

Therefore, Maiga said that investing in agricultural water management has a huge potential to make rural livelihoods more resilient and to increase agricultural productivity.

Planning, studies for multipurpose water dams

The government has embarked on setting up multipurpose water dams which will be used for crop irrigation; domestic use, cattle consumption and fisheries, according to Innocent Nzeyimana, the head of Land Husbandry, Irrigation and Mechanisation Department at Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB).

Nzeyimana called for comprehensive studies to assess water demand by the people, crops and livestock in targeted areas.

He pointed out that dams for fisheries should be specifically designed for that purpose with a clear structure to retain fish when water is released for irrigation in downstream areas.

“Planning for efficient water usage where water will be released based on need is essential. We are not yet there because some farmers use water the way they feel like. Some water released from dam almost submerges rice yet the crop does not need all that water. This practice slows down water flow from the dam downstream for livestock farmers,” he said, underlining the need for efficient water use.

Government targets an agriculture growth rate of 8.5 annually by 2018, up from the current 4 per cent in 2016.

A recent inventory of marshlands in Rwanda conducted in 2008 [by the Rwanda Environment Management Authority] shows that the country has 962 water bodies.

Currently, irrigated land in the country stands at 45,000 hectares, about 30,000 of which is in the Eastern Province, while the arable land that can be irrigated is estimated at 600,000 hectares, according to Rwanda Agriculture Board.

Under the small-scale irrigation technology scheme, farmers get a 50 per ent government subsidy for the cost of the irrigation equipment.

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