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What will it take for Rwanda to achieve its irrigation goals?

Growing unpredictability of weather and climate change effects continue to reduce agriculture productivity, increasing the need for irrigation in the country.

However, despite the obvious benefits and potential for irrigation to turn the sector around, efforts to scale up uptake continues to face challenges in the country.

For instance, currently, only about 60,000ha are under irrigation out of the national irrigation potential of 600,000ha.

The country targets to have at least 102,000ha under irrigation by 2024 which would among other things improve food security and productivity.

Reliance on rain-fed agriculture is not sustainable due increased weather unpredictability.

With the increased demand of food, it’s no longer enough to solely rely on the rainy season to engage in agriculture.

Officials in the agriculture sector say that the uptake of irrigation is mainly held back by mindset.

The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources, Jean Claude Musabyimana, said that considering that farmers can hardly access loans in the local financial sector, it’s a challenge to scale up the coverage of irrigation.

Currently, only about 6 percent of the total loans in the country go to the agriculture sector with financial sector players citing that the lack of data in the agriculture sector as the main cause.

The mindset and perception of farmers on the practice, Musabyimana said, is also a hindrance.

“Majority of Rwandan farmers do not believe in alternatives beyond rain-fed agriculture. It is important to demonstrate what irrigation can do to turn around the productivity of the sector,” he said.

For instance, despite the current season being a rainy one, there are very few if any community or individual interventions to harvest water and use it for agriculture purposes at a later date.

The challenge of uptake of irrigation is also partly due to factors such as the fact that most farmers in the country consider their activities subsistent and do not formally invest in operations.

This leads most farmers to hold back from investing in irrigation.

Tania Lozanksy, the Global Head of Advisory at Service at the International Finance Cooperation, said that if farmers viewed their operations as a business, there would be better and higher chances of finding avenues to fund the investment in irrigation.

“Rwanda uses about 2 percent of its water resources, so if we are looking at climate change and the changing weather patterns, we have to use more water for irrigation,” Lozanksy said.

Going forward, she said that there is need to have interventions across the board to ensure impact.

“The financial institutions need to understand how to finance the irrigation solutions and using certain models. The whole ecosystem has to come together but you also need to have a market, which is often a missing,” she added.

In addition, irrigation solutions and technology is also relatively expensive in Rwanda compared to other parts of the world.

Regassa Esermu Namara, the Team leader for farmer-led irrigation at the World Bank, said that like in most African countries, irrigation technology and interventions in Rwanda are often thrice or four times as expensive due to the levels of underdevelopment of the intervention in Rwanda.

The hilly terrain also contributes to increased costs of irrigation in the country.

To make irrigation a sustainable measure, Daniel Gies, the Chief of Party at Feed the Future, a programme funded by USAID, said that action steps ought to include capacity development among farmers on irrigation solutions coupled with seeking financial models that will make it more affordable.

The experts say that to make a case for irrigation, the value chain has to include profitable sales of produce which would justify an investment in irrigation on the part of farmers.

Currently, the Government’s subsidies for irrigation schemes stand at about 50 percent.