Irrigation schemes flounder as farmers labour to meet steep costs

Monday September 2 2019


Rwanda’s Irrigation Master Plan (IMP) shows the country the irrigation potential of nearly 600, 000ha. Photo | Cyril NDEGEYA 

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Farmers are struggling to pay for irrigation facilities set up countrywide due to limited incomes.

At the same time the cost of maintenance of the facilities remains high despite government offering subsidies.

Experts say despite ongoing efforts to promote irrigation, it is difficult to extend water lines to hilly areas across the country because many farmers cannot afford to pay.

For instance, a recent parliamentary commission report tabled in August shows that Rwandans under category 2 of the social protection scheme — Ubudehe are finding it difficult to pay 50 per cent of the payment required for irrigation facilities.

For those with farmland on the hills, it is more expensive because it costs more money to pump uphill. Concerns were raised over the coverage of irrigation, with farmers saying it is not sufficient for the country to achieve the targets as some irrigation projects have failed to deliver tangible benefits.

Currently, slightly over 48,508 hectares of land are currently covered by irrigation schemes countrywide yet the target was 100,000 ha by 2020. The government is targeting to increase land under irrigation to 102,284 hectares by 2024.


Rwanda’s Irrigation Master Plan (IMP) shows the country’s irrigation potential of nearly 600,000ha. Despite the government running a hillside irrigation scheme where it provides subsidies of up to 50 per cent, the cost of irrigation equipment needed by the farmers are still high, leading slow uptake.

Emmanuel Dushime, an agriculture professional with Horticulture in Reality Cooperative (HoReCo) told Rwanda Today that the small scale irrigation equipment could cost up to Rwf2 million, and even higher than that depending on the distance from the water source.

Additional costs

Besides, farmers incur operational cost for fuel, maintenance and up to Rwf50,000 water fees per season in some areas.

The parliamentary commission report partly blamed these costs to the failure to put to use a number of irrigation facilities like valley dams, dykes and water reservoirs under irrigation schemes in different parts of the country.

In Nyanza for instance, an investment into a 1.8 million cubic meter water reservoir had not been of any use to the area farmers on more 301 hectares since they could not pump water to the farms.

The commission found a valley dam in Ngoma District meant to facilitate hillside irrigation in Remera and Rurenge sectors unused for years while machinery acquired to facilitate farmers irrigate from Mirayi Lake in Gashora were abandoned.

The issues, if unchecked, could compromise the government target of more than doubling the area under irrigation to 102,284 hectares in the next five years from 48,508 ha as at the 2016/17 fiscal year. The target is to increase area under irrigation by 8,000 hectare on annual average.

Hong Beom-Hee, an irrigation expert and project manager for the Rural Community Support Project (RCSP) run by Korea International Co-operation Agency (Koica) in Rwanda argued that farmers stay away when one compares the cost of fuel and electricity with market prices for the agriculture production.

He said feasibility studies indicate that much as the cost of installation of pumping irrigation infrastructure appeared low compared with other systems like gravity systems, the operational costs imposed on the farmers are extremely high and unsustainable.

Maximise rain water

“There is a need to identify other technologies that maximise rainwater resources like gravity which entails construction of embankment for reservoir that harvest water during rainy season, so people can do irrigation without the need for energy,” he said.

Experts suggest that with appropriate rain water based hillside irrigation systems, the country could harness its precipitations estimated at 1,400mm annum to ensure year-round cultivation. It is estimated that only less than two per cent of the rain water resources in Rwanda is put to beneficial use.

Koica for instance, indicates that its multi-million dollar irrigation projects across seven selected sites in Rwanda only focused on marshland irrigation after hillside systems proved untenable for the farmers.

Myung Keun Choi, Koica Rwanda office deputy director argued that the government needs to invest in technological-driven hillside irrigation infrastructure while encouraging use of improved seeds and fertiliser to boost productivity.