Several Rwandans across the country face the risk of starvation due to the current prolonged drought.
And the situation may get worse since many smallholder farmers across the country are struggling to pay for irrigation.
Currently, slightly over 48.508 hectares are under irrigation, though this is well below the target of 100ha by 2020. The government is targeting to increase area under irrigation to 102.284ha by 2024.
Rwanda’s Irrigation Master Plan (IMP) shows the country’s irrigation potential at nearly 600,000ha.
A recent report by the parliamentary commission on agriculture shows that some irrigation schemes are mismanaged while some farmers cannot afford the operational and maintenance expenses of irrigation infrastructure.
Moreover, several irrigation projects continue to not only operate below capacity but sometimes close without any tangible results on the ground.
In its tour of the Eastern parts of the country, Rwanda Today found that irrigation had failed to mitigate the effects of prolonged drought. For example, about 10 out of 15 sectors in Bugesera District did not have good rains, which has been aggravated by the lack of irrigation mechanisms.
Thousands of hectares of crops were lost and farmers were left stranded with little or no harvest, putting them at risk of hunger.
While the government is increasing investment in irrigation schemes across the country, water pricing and recovery of the costs of irrigation investment, operation, and maintenance remain contentious, threatening the survival of the irrigation schemes.
Failure to recover costs from irrigation infrastructure creates serious problems for both the Ministry of Agriculture as the lead government agency charged with this issue and, in the long run, for farmers.
If the fees collected do not cover the costs of an irrigation project, its sustainability, without continued government subsidies, may be at risk.
Research shows that to achieve the two primary goals of cost recovery and reduced water use per unit of output in irrigation water management, two key issues must be addressed: first, design an effective pricing mechanism based on local conditions; and, second, develop a strategy for obtaining high rates of collection.
There is a need to focus on designing charges or markets that will give farmers an incentive to make better use of their water by reducing the amount used per unit of output. Better services will give farmers an incentive to pay their fees, which will translate into well maintained facilities. Result? Higher farm incomes.
But perhaps more importantly, involving farmers in planning creates a sense of ownership. According to research, farmers are more likely to pay if they are involved in the decision-making process. The earlier the involvement, the better.