Here comes the sun: solar-powered irrigation brings crops back to life in Rwanda

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Here comes the sun: solar-powered irrigation brings crops back to life in Rwanda

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Not long ago, Goretti Uwitije worried she might not manage to feed her family. Years of insufficient rainfall in Rwanda's Ngoma district had led to poor harvests and crop failure, threatening this small-scale farmer's livelihood and food security.

In a community where more than half of the population is poor and where 70 per cent of women are employed in agriculture, 43-year-old Goretti wasn’t alone in bearing the brunt of climate change and its erratic weather patterns.

Goretti Uwitije’s income has increased and she is now able to provide for her family.© WFP/JohnPaul Sesonga

This all changed with the arrival of the Joint Programme on Accelerating Progress towards Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment (JP RWEE), an initiative that aims to secure rural women’s livelihoods, rights and resilience to climate shocks and economic crises through a series of holistic and climate-smart projects.

In collaboration with local community leaders, the JP RWEE promoted solar-powered irrigation systems by distributing solar panels and pumps as well as training to Goretti and other women involved with the project.

“Before the introduction of a solar-powered irrigation system, my cooperative was suffering losses due to the use of a fuel-powered irrigation system, spending over RWF 200,000 (US$ 184) per month. The harvested vegetables couldn’t cover operational costs,” says Goretti.

“Now I’m very happy our cooperative earnings have increased from less than RWF 200,000 to over RWF 2 million (US$ 1,848) per season through the sale of fruits and vegetables from the solar irrigated land.”

Over the past year, all 20 women’s cooperatives supported by the JP RWEE in Ngoma have seen an increase in fruit and vegetable production. The yield from their lands more than quadrupled within a year, from an average of 3 to 13 tons of tomatoes and 1 to 15 tons of green peppers per hectare.

Chantal Umunyana heads one of the women’s cooperatives that benefited from the project. © WFP/JohnPaul Sesonga

Now, the women farmers of Ngoma do not rely as heavily on unpredictable rainfall and have a sustainable alternative to time-consuming and expensive manual and diesel-powered irrigation systems.

As a result, the women and their families are able to consume a more nutritious and balanced diet. They are now also harvesting a surplus fruit and vegetables which they can sell to earn a living and empower themselves.