Energy 4 Impact

Solar irrigation to battle drought in Rwanda

In the drought-prone district of Bugesera, south-east of Rwandas’s capital city Kigali, Peruth Tuyishime is one of six farming group members working on a one hectare farm. The farm grows a range of crops, from chili and maize, to cucumbers, sweet peppers and pumpkins. But erratic rain patterns, characterised by increasingly longer periods of droughts, are having a disastrous effect on food production and on the livelihoods of those dependent on agriculture.

Agriculture accounts for 33% of Rwanda’s GDP, with women smallholder farmers contributing up to 79% of the country’s agricultural labour.

For farmers like Peruth, an unpredictable, changing climate means not only fewer crops to harvest, it also means having to find more money to pay for food. “When rains fail it affects our work and feeding the family becomes difficult,” she says.

Yet, the district of Bugesera boasts many natural water resources that could be efficiently utilised for irrigation to cushion farmers from droughts. Irrigation has a huge potential to mitigate the impact of climate change on agriculture and increase farms’ productivity. It is estimated that the crop yields on properly-irrigated land can be more than double those on rain-fed and hand-irrigated land.

However, “not everyone can afford to irrigate and those small-scale farmers who do irrigate, mainly depend on diesel to power their pumps, which makes them costly to operate,” explains Eric Ruzigamanzi, Agriculture Project Technical Manager, Energy 4 Impact.

In 2017, Peruth and her cooperative of farmers bought a petrol engine water pump. “In order to irrigate one hectare of land, each season we had to spend 108,000 RWF ($120) on fuel; 48,000 RWF ($50) for transport to get petrol from the nearest station, located 10 km away; and 72,000 RWF ($80) for manual workers to move around a very heavy hose. We simply could not sustain this cost,’’ Peruth said.

While solar-powered irrigation technologies are a cost-effective alternative to diesel pumps, as they remove the need for diesel and result in significant long-term savings, they require a higher initial investment, which puts them beyond the reach of many farmers.

Access to finance, especially for small-scale farmers, as well as the accessibility of good quality products and services remains an issue in Rwanda.

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