EVERY YEAR during the dry season, Christine Mukabatsinda had to down her tools and wait for up to three months for rains to start farming.
For the resident of Kibeho Sector in Nyaruguru District, Southern Province, previously there were only two farming seasons throughout the year; the rainy season between February and May and the one from September to December.
Mukabatsinda, a subsistence farmer, would spend the other remaining months almost doing nothing – a long wait that sometimes proved painful, as she would at times run out of food to feed her family.
For years, thoughts of living a better life were a mere daydream until she decided to join hands with other residents and try, against all odds, to grow crops throughout the year.
Months ago, Mukabatsinda’s dream of a better life turned into reality when she attended a training on commercial farming and was introduced to irrigation as a way of modernising agriculture, increasing production and farming for markets.
Together with other local residents, they started a cooperative named ‘Ejo Heza’ (–literary meaning, A Better Future–) to improve their living conditions.
They decided to start a small-scale irrigation scheme as a way of ensuring constant and improved production.
With a focus on market-driven vegetable farming, they decided to invest in enhancing production to meet the growing market demand.
They, therefore, decided to embrace irrigation. Every morning and evening the residents meet in their fields to water their crops–something they say is crucial in achieving their objective.
“With hand irrigation, we are able to grow crops all year round, regardless of whether it is a rainy season or not,” Mukabatsinda says as she waters a carrot field.
“For years, I thought I was condemned to a poor life because the harvest from traditional agriculture was very low. I always struggled to find enough food to feed my family,” she notes.
“I am no longer the peasant who used to grow crops for home consumption but rather a modern farmer producing enough for home consumption and then markets.”
Patricia Mukashyaka, another vegetable farmer who has turned to small-scale hand irrigation, also believes the practice offers unequalled opportunities to transform farmers’ lives.
“Irrigation helps us get money even at a time when production seems impossible due to drought,” Mukashyaka says.
“Because not every farmer is practicing irrigation like we are doing, there is high demand for fresh vegetables on the market. Irrigation is allowing us to meet that demand, which has helped boost our earnings,” she adds.
Though Mukashyaka still practices irrigation on small scale, she believes her life will continue to change as she expands her activities.
The government says it is committed to developing agriculture, a sector that employs more than 80 per cent of Rwandans.
Among the efforts made include the provision of high-quality seeds to farmers, promotion of land consolidation, encouraging use of fertilisers and pushing for mechanisation of agriculture, among others.
Irrigation also received considerable attention, with efforts geared at encouraging farmers to adopt the practice.
According to the 2010 Irrigation Master Plan, Rwanda has about 600,000 hectares of land suitable for irrigation.
Marshland irrigation, mainly through water canals, hand watering and mechanised irrigation are all taking place across the country, though still on a small scale.
Innocent Nzeyimana, the chairperson of the taskforce for mechanisation and irrigation at the Ministry of Agriculture, says farmers can reap big from irrigation.
He says those who have already embraced irrigation are enjoying the benefits.
Citing the case of Nasho, where a large-scale irrigation project is being implemented, Nzeyimana says the production of maize there has increased from the past 300kg per hectare to an estimated 4.5 tonnes.
In other areas, tomato farmers are producing between 20 and 30 tonnes per hectare, Nzeyimana says.
“There is a lot of potential in irrigation,” Nzeyimana says.
He, however, added that despite efforts to educate farmers on the benefits of irrigation, some are still reluctant to embrace it.