Focus turns to irrigation to ensure more agricultural production

In a bid to increase agricultural productivity, irrigation can ensure adequate exploitation of all available land in order to produce enough food for both national and international markets.

Sylvain Ndahayo watering his cabbage seedlings (Photo: Eric Didier Karinganire)

Sylvain Ndahayo watering his cabbage seedlings (Photo: Eric Didier Karinganire)

Sylvain Ndahayo from Bunyogombe in Ruhango sector has shown the way. The father of three managed to build a 120-cubic meters pool of water and with a small machine connected to the pool through a pipe, he is able to pump water to his garden.

Ndahayo is currently growing more than 30 varieties of vegetables including leeks, carrots, parsleys, onion and cab¬bages throughout the year using harvested rain wa¬ter. He is a thriving vegetables and fruits farmer in the neighborhood.

“In the beginning, I used to spend the whole day fetching water for my crops from down the valley two kilometers away. I was supposed to carry at least 40 jerrycans for watering every day, but the yield was still poor,” Ndahayo recalls the tricky beginning of the small-scale irrigation.

It’s until 2009 that Ndahayo realized that it was no longer easy to live on his ancestors’ tiny land by farming it traditionally. His property to exploit was all about 0.15 ha.

“I had no large farmland. That pushed me to look for other means to increase productivity on the tiny land that I owned,” he explains the genesis of his endeavor for irrigation.

Ndahayo’s commitment was later supple¬mented by material sup¬port including the pumping machine and water pit provided by the agriculture ministry. The pit has capacity to keep water that he uses in farming activities even during dry seasons.

“My life is based on this water,” he states. “When I see this pit full of water, I’m assured of better productivity with less fatigue. This has really increased my income significantly.”

Obviously Ndahayo is a man who knows well what he is saying with his four-year experience practicing the small-scale irrigation. He for instance confirms that he earns at least Frw 200,000 per season from a piece of land where he would be getting around Frw 20,000 if he was still exploiting it traditionally – a tenfold increase.

Apart from his daily consumption, Ndahayo has managed to purchase another farming portion, own a decent house equipped with biogas system electrification and cows that help him get compost for his fields.

“Some people now contact me from neighboring districts not only ordering some commodities, but also asking for some tips,” he delights for his progression.

Unlike Ndahayo, many farmers in different parts of the country from east to west still rely on two traditional agricultural seasons; which are sometimes disturbed by unreliable rainfall.

Nsabimana from western province for instance got five tons of Irish potatoes from his two-hectare farmland last season, while he was expecting between seven and eight tons if there had never been insufficient rainfall.

Actually, Ndahayo is among few Rwandans whose farming business can’t be affected by climate change. So far, only 24, 528 ha have been covered with irrigation facilities countrywide; with 1,522 ha on hillside. The government is now injecting huge amount of money to fund the construction of these irrigation facilities.

Some farmers in Kirehe and Nyagatare started benefiting from the pilot projects of hillside large scale irrigation under Government Funded Irrigation (GFI) and say that their yields increased significantly.

Oswald Ngiribera from Mpanga sector of Kirehe district is one of the farmers who have been benefiting from the irrigation facilities. He harvested four tons of maize last season on his two-hectare farmland where he used to get between 700 kgs and 1000 kgs of maize before he starts benefiting from the large-scale irrigation established in Mpanga since three years ago.

“I no longer fear to sow seeds anytime along the year,” says Ngiribera, adding that the irrigation scheme allowed him to grow crops three times along the year; instead of two unreliable seasons he used to before.

The father of seven is now growing vegetables mainly tomatoes and onions and is expecting to earn not less than four million Rwandan francs from a farmland where he used to get barely between Frw 600,000 and Frw 700,000.

According to the irrigation and mechanization taskforce officials, the irrigation has so far helped farmers increase their maize yields from about 800 kgs to 3.5 tons per hectare while rice production increases from around 1000 kgs to 7 tons per hectare.

In fact, many Rwandans face the shortage of land as small as Ndahayo’s; a factor that can affect food security if there are no innovative ways like irrigation to increase productivity. Also, bad weather conditions are likely to affect agricultural production since many depend on rain-fed agriculture.

But one would argue that the country of thousand hills is lucky with a good number of rivers and lakes plus enough rainfall that might facilitate rainwater harvest to make irrigation possible.

In this regard, officials at the agriculture ministry say plans are ahead to scale up irrigation infrastructure in order to minimize risks that can be caused by insufficient rainfall or scarcity of farmlands.
Jean Claude Musabyimana, a member of the Irrigation and mechanization Task Force, says they are conducting integrated studies in order to use efficiently water resources in irrigating available farmlands. He for instance says there is ongoing study to see how to use Nyabarongo water in irrigation while studies to elaborate how to use water of Muvumba, Mwogo and Nasho/Mahama are to be undertaken soon.

The irrigation master plan showed that Rwanda has potential to irrigate and modernize agriculture on around 589,600 ha land, Musabyimana mentions.

According to the country’s second phase of Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS2), the government targets to irrigate 100,000 ha including 65,000 ha of marshland domains and 35,000 ha on hillside by 2018.

Dr Agnes Kalibata, the Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, insists that the ministry is really committed to promote irrigation scheme around the country as the option to help farmers cope with irregular rainfall.

“We are looking how we can boost pumping machines so that many farmers can embrace irrigation scheme,” she pointed out. “We can’t afford to see water flowing away while we should be taking advantage of it to secure growing seasons and increase productivity.”

Kalibata has good reason to emphasize on irrigation in this time when some farmers experienced insufficient rainfall within the first month of growing season 2014 A.

The minister is optimistic about the irrigation option since between 30% and 40% of available land is close to water. Agriculture is being given special attention since the sector is seen as the backbone of Rwanda’s economy; hence a need of new and creative innovations to take Rwanda’s economy to the next level.

Rwanda’s annual economic growth currently stands at 8%. And the agriculture sector is among the biggest contributors – it contributed 33% to the country’s GDP last year; hence the government is striving to transform the sector.

Obviously there is a good indication that Rwanda is keen to reform its farming sector to boost production and draw investment. For instance, Rwanda’s Presidential Advisory Council held late September, focused on sustainable methods to boost agricultural productivity as well as strategies to promote private sector investment into agriculture value chains, in line with President Paul Kagame’s commitment to fixing the country’s biggest employer – around 80% of Rwandans rely on agriculture.

Officials are now committed to boost irrigation scheme after that the government strengthened some strategic policies such as the Crop Intensification Program, increased use of fertilizer, land use consolidation, and other techniques, that contributed to increase the country’s economy.

Even though it’s apparent that Rwanda made tremendous efforts to increase agricultural productivity over the years, but the agriculture minister is convinced that there is still a room for increasing productivity through irrigation scheme.

“Efforts we made in the past have been very fruitful, but we still hope to achieve much more with what we are doing now,” Kalibata points out. “No Rwandan deserves deprived life due to lack of foodstuff while we have what it takes to earn a decent life.”

This Story Was Produced With the Support of The African Story Challenge, @African Media Initiative