The government is burdened by the heavy costs of operating irrigation systems and wants the private sector to take over irrigation projects across the country.
The government has spent over Rwf30 billion in training farmers on how to utilise and maintain irrigation projects since 2010.
Yet, the private sector has not shown any interest in assuming ownership.
Tony Nsanganira, the State Minister for Agriculture, told KT Press, “Government spends Rwf2 billion ($2.7 million) every year for training of farmers and maintenance of these projects.” He adds however, farmers are still reluctant to learn how to utilize these projects.
Eng. Grace Mukarusagara, who runs a $5million Rwentanga and Kagitumba irrigation projects in Eastern Province, said farmers have not heed to a philosophy of owning the projects.
“Government provides market for their produce at better prices but we still don’t see them learning how to run these projects,” she told KT Press.
Irrigation projects remain expensive ventures that only government is injecting funds.
“We have asked big farmers to work with small holder farmers in maintaining these projects in vain,” Nsanganira told KT Press.
The primary benefit of the government is to ensure that every Rwandan farmer produces to full capacity.
But Nsanganira says that hillside irrigation is a very costly project, requiring huge funding; between $12,000 to $25,000 to irrigate an uphill hectare compared to $3000 for low land.
Fifteen years ago, Rwanda started a long-term project to utilize its 1.5 million hectares of arable land.
Out of 1.5 million hectares, 63% of it (600,000 ha) need urgent irrigation mechanization plans in order to start producing.
According to Nsanganira, “We have only irrigated 35,000 hectares (5%) of the land.”
Of 5% of land irrigated so far, less than 1% of upland has been irrigated while the rest (4%) was spent on low land irrigation projects.
Since government started irrigation projects, Rwf100 billion ($133, 4 million) has been invested.
Out of Rwf100 billion, 65% of it come from development partners, while 35% came from government.
With the involvement of development partners, Nsanganira believes that the cost should not bother their ultimate target of utilising Rwanda’s unproductive land.
Development partners include World Bank, International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), African Development Bank, among others.
World Bank has been championing the hillside irrigation.
Recently, President Paul Kagame launched the Bank’s fully-funded $9.5 million dam to support irrigation of 3001 hectares of uphill land in Nyanza district, Southern Rwanda.
Other projects supported by development partners include IFAD’s Rwf30 billion KWAMP project in Kirehe, Eastern Province as well as Karongi uphill irrigation project, while Bugesera irrigation project is also undergoing.
“It is a huge subsidy government is giving farmers. But we still have a very long way to go,” Nsanganira told KT Press.
Germaine Nyinawase 45, cultivated on 5-hectares of land onto which she grew various crops in a subsistence farming practice.
However, for over a period of ten years of subsistence farming, Nyinawase could not earn any meaningful revenue from her land. She thought of selling the land and migrating to neighbouring Uganda.
“At the end of harvest, the only gain was food for home consumption” says the mother of seven, who lives in Nyagatare District of Rwanda’s Eastern Province.
“I once thought of selling off this land and flee to neighbouring Uganda,” she told KT Press.
Later, in 2012, Nyinawase was approached by officials from the ministry of Agriculture through government-supported irrigation system. They advised her to give up her land for irrigation projects.
Today, Nyinawase says, “On average, I get Rwf5million ($7, 247) every season from Maize produce.” She sells a kilogram at Rwf205.
With three seasons in a year, Nyinawase makes Rwf15 million ($21,741) from her production. So is Nyinawase’s story that is shared across the country.
“Irrigation came and rolled back our tears of constant loss we made before. I can give all to run these infrastructures,” said Claudine Nyampinga, a beneficiary of Kagitumba irrigation project.
Meanwhile, for Nyinawase whose irrigated land has accumulated wealth, she says she has developed modern farming skills that will drive her beyond economic limits.
“The sky is the limit,” she said.
Farmers have promised government that they are ready to protect irrigation infrastructure and save a whooping Rwf30 billion spent on training them and maintaining the infrastructure since 2010.