A demonstration farm in the Gisagara district of Rwanda recently hosted an education day for more than 70 farmers, to spread awareness of how small-scale solar irrigation systems can boost agricultural production and productivity.
The farm is one of four demonstration farms set up by Energy 4 Impact to highlight the productivity and financial benefits of solar irrigation, and to show how financing can make them affordable. The farmers were able to get information and advice from equipment suppliers, financial institutions, local agronomists and the Energy 4 Impact team.
Drought and erratic rainfall in recent years has impacted Rwandan food production and supply, and hit the livelihoods of many farmers. Energy 4 Impact’s Solar Irrigation in Rwanda (SIR) project, funded by The Opec Fund for International Development, aims to boost the income of 3,000 smallholder farmers – half of whom are women - in its first two years, and improve food security, by encouraging the adoption of solar irrigation systems.
Irrigation systems in Rwanda are mainly powered by electricity from diesel generators. The operating costs put these systems beyond the reach of many poorer farmers and those who can afford them, face price fluctuations. Solar equipment removes the costs associated with diesel, and is more sustainable. However, solar systems are costly to buy and many farmers believe that this makes solar irrigation unaffordable, without realising that it is more cost-effective in the long-term.
“Using solar irrigation can have a long-lasting benefit on productivity, enabling farmers to increase the number of planting phases and diversify their crops,” explains Eric Ruzigamanzi, SIR Agriculture Project Technical Manager at Energy4 Impact. “As well as training farmers at these demonstration farms in the use of solar pumps, we are helping them with practical know-how on agricultural practices, pest control and potential new crops.”
Energy 4 Impact has been working with financial institutions and equipment suppliers to develop a range of affordable schemes to enable the farmers to obtain the solar systems on loan, at a subsidised rate, or, where they belong to a local group or cooperative, to purchase the solar systems on credit.
“I am really encouraged by the enthusiasm of the farmers who came along to the education day,” said Jean Paul Hanganimana, the Vice Mayor in charge of Economic Development Affairs in Gisagara District.
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.