Agriculture is the backbone of Rwanda’s economy, it’s the key to the country’s growth and poverty reduction strategy, employing 79 percent of its population. However, dependence on rains and lack of irrigation has proven to be a major hindrance in productivity and food security. 

Small-scale irrigation has the potential to contribute to improved food security and higher rural incomes. A combination of factors such as low awareness among farmers, high upfront costs of solar irrigation systems, as well as limited access to finance for farmers and technology suppliers stands as a limitation. 

However, with the introduction of Energy 4 Impact in Rwanda, an initiative was launched in 2008, aimed at developing a small-scale solar irrigation market in Rwanda as a way of increasing farmers’ productivity and the country’s food security. Energy 4 Impact is a non-profit organisation working with local businesses to extend access to energy in Africa.

With a target of 3,000 smallholder farmers, technology suppliers, and lenders across the country, the company sought to create a sustainable market by increasing awareness, availability and affordability of appropriate solar irrigation technologies.

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. However, they do 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. Energy4 Impact set up a demonstration farm, to showcase a range of solar irrigation equipment, suitable for the needs of smallholder farmers.

This initiative was funded by the OPEC and Fund for International Development (OFID) to develop the small-scale solar irrigation market in the country, as a way of increasing farmers’ productivity and the country’s food security

Under this scheme, farmers are required to raise 30 percent of the cost of the system, comprising an ENNOS Sunlight pump, solar PV panels and a 50m hosepipe; the remaining 70 percent is subsidized by the Rwanda Agriculture Board and Energy 4 Impact through OFID.

Through this mix of loans and subsidies, farmers and organizations made up of 281 smallholder farmers were able to acquire solar irrigation systems from accredited suppliers. Within a season, most of them have seen their yields increase by up to 67 percent over the previous season.

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. With support from financial institutions and equipment suppliers, small-scale farmers will be able to source and afford good quality solar irrigation systems.

Solar irrigation can have a long-lasting benefit on productivity, enabling farmers to increase the number of planting seasons, diversify their crops and enhance communities’ resilience to climate shocks. Training farmers at demonstration farms with solar pumps will provide them with the knowledge and practical know-how on agricultural practices, pest control and potential new crops.

 By Faith Ikade

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