Irrigation seen as the cure for drought, food shortage

Friday January 25 2013

A sprinkler is displayed at an agriculture exhibition in June last year. A new irrigation programme is under way to end food shortages. Photo/Cyril Ndegeya

A sprinkler is displayed at an agriculture exhibition in June last year. A new irrigation programme is under way to end food shortages. Photo/Cyril Ndegeya Nation Media Group

By IGNATIUS SSUUNA Special Correspondent

The Rwf5 billion irrigation scheme in Eastern Province is revolutionising agricultural production among the local small-scale farmers and boosting the country’s food security, officials say.

Ministry of Agriculture officials say irrigation schemes are vital to improving livelihoods of farmers who have suffered in the past due to unpredictable weather.

“We lost our crops and the harvest was poor due to drought,” said Claudine Uwanyuze, a farmer in Nyagatare District, which is in the province. “We look at the irrigation project as our saviour — not only for Nyagatare residents but Rwandans in general.”

Rwanda is considered more food secure than its East African Community regional bloc counterparts, according to a global hunger scoreboard released in 2011 by the international anti-poverty agency ActionAid.

The project also aims at improving the country’s ability to produce quality seeds and provide farmers with quality training that can benefit them for many years.

For example, local farmers have formed associations where money is raised to buy hybrid seeds from the ministry.

Part of the Rwf5 billion will also be used for construction of irrigation canals in the district.

Unpredictable weather

The irrigation project is being implemented in collaboration with Unitech, a South African company.

Similar projects have been successful in Kirehe District, also in the province.

The government sees irrigation schemes, especially in districts prone to unfavourable weather conditions, as the panacea to food security for small-scale producers in the near future.

Information from the district indicates that, in 2010, more than 4,,000 hectares of maize was destroyed in Nyagatare due to severe drought that hit the larger part of the province, making farmers lose thousands of tonnes of the crop.

In a recent interview, Grace Mukarusagara, an agronomist in the ministry, said the new government-funded irrigation programme will enable farmers realise high yields without relying on the unpredictable weather.

20-year lifespan

The already completed site, located in Rwentanga Cell in Matimba Sector, comprises irrigation canals, water pumping machines and feeder roads that will cater for more than 400 hectares of land in two sectors before being rolled out in the entire district.

The project is expected to last for more than 20 years, helping farmers in irrigation activities. The ministry has asked the beneficiaries to take good use of the irrigation equipment.