Farmers in Rwanda, in the western district of Rulindo are predominately vegetable growers and need a huge amount of clean water.
More than one-third of farmers have limited access to clean water and depend on rainfall as one of the few options to water their crops. Most farmers need to travel far to fetch water for consumption and irrigation.
During rainfall, the water runs off from its steep hills because of the area’s mountainous landscape. And this shortfall makes Yanze River, the main source of water for the district, serving also Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali for domestic use.
It has been difficult to meet the pressing water needs of the Rulindo farmers and the Kigali city. Local water company supplies water to the rural communities only for a few hours a day, particularly at night, or very early in the morning. As a result, farmers do not have enough water to irrigate their fields, especially when rainfalls are limited or during the dry seasons.
To address the issue of water allocation, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has built six water ponds to support local farmers of the Yanze Horticulture Production Cooperative (YAHOPROC).
The Yanze river’s water is collected in the ponds and then brought from the ponds to the fields by three solar-powered pumps. The system provides a constant source of water that is evenly distributed to all the fields, including those that are most difficult to reach due to the hilly terrains.
Farmers can grow vegetables all year long and sell their products to buyers in Kigali.
Jean d’Arc Mubaranyanga, a farmer, said: “We no longer sit idly during the sunny season, worrying about how we can irrigate. There is no such problem now, we have water and a machine which automatically pumps it for us.”
The solar-powered pumps save fuel costs for the farmers and help increase production.
Mubaranyanga noted how he could barely harvest 60kg of broccoli per season. But since the use of the solar-powered pump, he is able to harvest 200kg of broccoli in the same area.
Farmers who couldn’t eat vegetables and produce healthy diets for their families are now able to do so. All thanks to the irrigation system which allows farmers to cultivate healthy and nutritious food.
“Now, we have fruits and vegetables in every meal we have. We no longer have malnutrition issues. Children don’t suffer from Kwashiorkor (severe malnutrition),” said Mubaranyanga.
Around 150 Kilometers Southeast of Rulindo, in Ngoma district, the most drought-prone province of the country, FAO has built a spring catchment tap to collect water for the local communities.
Springwater is usually fed from sand or gravel water-bearing soils, or from water flows through fissured rock. A spring catchment tap channels the natural outflow of groundwater into a pipe delivering safe water for consumption and irrigation. For many years, Alphonsine Mukeshimana, a 47 years old farmer and mother of 8 traveled 3-hour every day to fetch water for use at home.
This time-consuming task took away valuable time from Alphonsine and her children. In addition, the water fetched was not clean and has caused health problems for the family.“My children and I had to fetch very dirty water, which always caused us intestinal worms,” said Mukeshimana.
The spring water has also become a source of safe water for the members of the community.
Josepha Mukamana, the FAO RWEE Project Manager, noted that “after seeing how cooperative members don’t have clean water, the idea of shooting two birds with one stone came.” “Now they can irrigate their crops and get clean water for their sanitation and nutrition,” he said.
In the dry season, this spring catchment is able to provide water for about 300 people from nine villages daily.
“Now it only takes Alphonsine 30 minutes to get clean water. But since you (FAO) gave us clean water, we are healthy, we do not suffer from diseases related to dirty water because we now drink pure and clean water,” Mukeshimana said.
Through the Rural Women Economic Empowerment (RWEE) programme and the “Knowing water better” (KnoWat) project, FAO is working to promote sustainable access to water resources in Rwanda. Support is given to women farmers who are mainly involved in subsistence farming and have limited access to agriculture inputs due to their low economic capacity.
Gualbert Gbehounou, the FAO Representative in Rwanda said “This is what FAO, the UN is all about.”
“To make sure that we add our modest contribution to what can make the lives of rural women conducive to unleash their potential. Having access to water removes an impediment to the agricultural production of rural women. They can grow crops, rear livestock, and even produce fish, no matter the season. They provide their families with healthy food and even improve their incomes,” he said.
The theme of this year’s World Water Day (22 March) is “Groundwater – making the invisible visible”.
FAO calls on the critical importance of groundwater resources for food production and food security to meet global water and agricultural demands by 2050. It is also issuing a warning on the threats of groundwater depletion for agricultural production, livelihoods, and food security.