Water is fundamental to any sort of agricultural business. As it stands, a large portion of Rwandan farmers only get it from the sky, in the form of sporadic rainfall. This is despite plentiful lakes full of water being mere metres away.

Irrigation is the general term process for artificially getting water on these crops, and Flavia and I discuss her evaluation of the market and the product she has been looking at (Future Pump) that provides a solar powered irrigation pump to smallholder farmers.

Here are some of the key quotes:

“Irrigation is artificially watering fields”

It’s essentially any time that water is taken from one source (such as a lake or river) and put on a field

“There’s currently a whole season where farmers can’t get income”

Without access to irrigation systems farmers are limited to growing whenever it rains. This is unreliable and means that there are big periods of the year when they just can’t earn any money

“Enormous irrigation was the status quo”

The only irrigation projects have been large scale government operations which were prohibitive for small scale farmers, or expensive petrol pumps. 2% of farmers use petrol pumps, the rest have no income.

“Rwanda isn’t a water poor country”

The problem isn’t that there’s enough water, it’s just that it’s located in lakes. The crux of irrigation is to get the water out from the lakes and onto fields so that farmers can increase their yield.

“Solar makes running costs free”

Using an solar powered irrigation pump that has been developed in Kenya, farmers are able to harness the sun’s energy to replace the petrol pumps that some of them are using.

“The payback is one season”

Whilst it is still a big upfront cost to buy a solar powered pump, the additional revenue that can be earned means that it should payback within an irrigated dry season. The challenge comes in how to set up the financing in this industry, to give smallholder farmers access.

Vegetable farmers have a quicker payback than maize and beans.

“There are competing costs”

They have costs for fertiliser and casual labour but also other expenditure such as electricity at home and school fees.

“Because of the hills people grow tea and potatoes”

Whereas in the flatter parts of the country they grow different crops such as maize and beans. In the valleys, it’s rice.

“Access to market is a challenge in Rwanda”

Distribution is difficult. Most people carry the produce on their head and formal structures don’t exist across the country. It’s mainly operating in a cooperative, and then a chain of bigger markets and smaller markets all the way to consumers.

“Being dictated by the seasons means there are supply spikes”

If everyone is harvesting their tomatoes at the same time, then when they all go to market, the price drops. If a farmer can better control his irrigation and therefore supply tomatoes when others are not, he will see a better price for his produce.

“Big producers won’t use petrol anymore”

The additional costs that come with running a petrol powered operation mean that more and more of the sector are moving over to use solar power as a means to irrigate their land

“Rwanda is different because of the government”

Whereas farmers across East and Southern Africa will benefit from solar powered irrigation, the government in Rwanda has recognised that this is an area where benefits can be reaped, and so is giving a 50% subsidy to pumps for smallholder farmers.

“Paying back a solar pump opens opportunities to purchase more on credit”

Being able to demonstrate the ability to payback the upfront cost of an irrigation pump will make access to capital easier for larger purchases that can facilitate development and growth.

“Shared water access is an increasing (international) challenge”

Direction over ensuring that rivers and lakes don’t get over-irrigated comes from governments and other international bodies that try to keep the system fair, safe and sustainable.

“Farmers are open to this new technology”

Telling them that they can save $10/ day on petrol costs is pretty compelling. There is some learning around how to use the pump differently to the incumbent petrol ones, but as they are designed similarly, this doesn’t seem to be a huge issue.


Social Media Follows

Future Pump Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/futurepump/

Future Pump Twitter: https://twitter.com/futurepump

Off-grid GSM provider: http://steama.co/

Flavia Howard: https://www.linkedin.com/in/flavia-howard-a0a01341