A pilot solar-powered project set up to support small scale irrigation in some districts of Eastern Province has been credited with improving crop yields.
The $389,000 (over Rwf320m) project, "Support for enhancing Small Scale Irrigation technologies in Rwanda", was implemented by the by Food and Agriculture Organisation in partnership with Rwanda Agriculture Board.
The project was initiated in 2015 to strengthen the resilience of farmers to climate change and implemented in three districts that are prone to drought, namely Kayonza, Nyagatare, and Kirehe.
It benefitted 10 cooperatives with over 582 farmers and extended small-scale irrigation on over 300 hectares of land.
Gerard Munyeshuri Gatete, one of the beneficiaries, used the project grant of Rwf20 million to introduce small-scale irrigation by using solar power to pump water from underground through a technique known as "borehole technology" because their land is not near any water body.
"We grow maize, beans, soya, and bananas on eight hectares. We were provided irrigation equipment and also introduced vegetables and fruits such as watermelon, carrots and other crops because we had hoped that irrigation could save us from drought.
"We could harvest 1.5 tonnes of beans per hectare without irrigation but after getting irrigation support, we can harvest 4 tonnes per one hectare. For maize, we used to harvest 2.5 tonnes per hectare but now we can harvest 5 tonnes per hectare because of irrigation using solar-powered borehole technique to pump water from underground," he said.
The company has 10 shareholders and employs eight persons every day in farming activities.
It says the turnover of beans has doubled from Rwf200m while onions alone experienced an increased profit of Rwf500, 000.
Devota Nsabamariya, the president of the cooperative Amizero Iwacu that grows maize and beans in Nyagatare district, said they used to exploit only Season A and Season B but after getting irrigation equipment they started to even plant in Season C, which is normally affected by drought.
"Per one hectare we could harvest 4.5 tonnes but we have increased to 6.5 tonnes because of irrigation. We are happy that we were also trained on operating the irrigation equipment," she said.
She said the cooperative grows crops on 64 hectares with 95 members adding that they have recently got an increase in profits of about Rw1m. The two were part of farmers who turned up in Kigali for the official closure of operations of the project last week.
Target for small-scale irrigation
Innocent Nzeyimana, the head of land husbandry, irrigation and mechanisation at RAB, said government has so far enabled small-scale irrigation on about 4,500 hectares since when it was launched in 2015 and is expected to increase to 10, 000 hectares by 2020.
In general, he said, government targets to enhance irrigation on over 100,000 hectares from the current 48,508 hectares.
"Annual average hectares with small-scale irrigation is between 2,000 and 2,500 hectares. The project by FAO, in partnership with RAB, is one of tools helping to meet the target because we are thinking of a new project to scale up irrigation in other districts since we have realised it increased crop productivity and resilience to climate change as well as farming knowledge in terms of irrigation," he said.
Vianney Otto Muhinda, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)'s assistant representative to Rwanda, said that such projects should consider boosting farmers' skills in different agricultural practices such as handling irrigation equipment.
"We increased farmer's knowledge of how to operate the machine, pumping water and some were sent to Morocco for study tours. We will continue with those farmers, monitoring the maintenance of the equipment so that they are used for long-term period and they can financially replace them when they are old," he said.
Muhinda said $200,000 of the wound-down project budget was allocated to the equipment while the rest was spent on training farmers in using the materials.