New solar irrigation project to improve farmers’ livelihoods, food security in Rwanda

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Energy 4 Impact has launched a new initiative aimed at developing the small-scale solar irrigation market in Rwanda, as a way of increasing farmers’ productivity and the country’s food security.

Targeting 3,000 smallholder farmers across the country, as well as technology suppliers and lenders, the OFID-funded $1 million project seeks to create the conditions for a sustainable market by increasing awareness, availability and affordability of appropriate solar irrigation technologies.

“Both the Rwanda Agriculture Board and the farming community welcome this initiative and look forward to reaping the benefits and opportunities that solar powered irrigation offers. Given Rwanda’s geography and its solar radiation potential, the density of cultivated land and the availability of water resources, solar irrigation can enable smallholder farmers to use the water sources more productively, adapt to climate change and improve nutritional outcomes and rural development. Although solar powered irrigation systems are expensive, they are widely known for minimising operation costs. This project offers financing solutions to improve the availability and affordability of good quality products, and scale-up their adoption,” says Hanson Imicomyiza, acting Head of Land Husbandry, Irrigation and Mechanisation at the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB).

Agriculture is the backbone of Rwanda’s economy – employing 79% of the population – and is key to the country’s growth and poverty reduction strategy. However, dependence on rains and lack of irrigation are holding back productivity and affecting food security.

Small-scale irrigation has the potential to contribute to improved food security and higher rural incomes. However, a combination of factors has hampered its development. These include low awareness among farmers and high upfront costs of solar irrigation systems, as well as limited access to finance for farmers and technology suppliers.

Energy 4 Impact and Solar Irrigation in Rwanda project

Through the Solar Irrigation in Rwanda (SIR) project, Energy 4 Impact is designing financial mechanisms to increase affordability of small-scale solar irrigation technologies.

Energy 4 Impact will support system suppliers through a working capital facility; to finance inventory purchase and a receivables facility to bridge the gap between sale and receipt of funds. At the same time, a consumer credit facility will enable farmers and farming cooperatives to purchase the systems on credit.

Energy 4 Impact will also provide technical assistance to the farmers and help them connect them with technology suppliers and financial institutions for credit access.

Half of the 3,000 targeted farmers are women, as they form 78.8% of the labour force in the agricultural sector according to a 2016 report by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda. Furthermore, women often bear the burden of meeting their families’ food and nutritional needs.

“Energy 4 Impact’s support will empower women to enhance productivity, generate more income and increase the availability of food for their families and the communities around them. Solar irrigation will also help them save the time and labour spend on tasks such as hauling water, usually over long distances, for farming,” says Espoir Serugo, SIR Agriculture Project Manager at Energy 4 Impact.

The project will be implemented in across eight districts in the Eastern and Southern parts of Rwanda. The districts include: Bugesera, Kirehe, Nyagatare, Ngoma, and Gatsibo in the East; and Gisagara, Kamonyi and Muhanga in the South.

Following the successful implementation of the pilot phase, the SIR project will expand to support 13,000 farmers with access to solar irrigation systems over five years, benefiting an estimated 65,000 people.

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