Ailing Fruit Project Saved by New Solar Irrigation
Farmer Jean Claude Sindikubwabo (35) has experienced a long and painful journey from the time he started farming in 2014. Like most beginners, he started off on the wrong foot, seeing losses on his first vegetable harvest mainly due to a lack of knowledge and unconducive weather conditions around Bugesera, one of Rwanda’s driest districts. Unfortunately, he never fully recovered from that bad start until much later in November 2019, when he received an approx. $4,000 (RWF 4 million) bank loan to invest in watermelon farming that matured the following year in March 2020. By bad luck, that coincided with the first total lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic! The project was doomed without access to markets. The pain of watching his produce rot in the garden and the thought of the unpaid bank loan were too much to bear. Sindikubwabo needed urgent help.
That same year, Sindikubwabo joined 63 farmers on Kamabuye solar irrigation site, one of the sites set up in the four districts of Gatsibo, Ngoma, Kayonza and Bugesera by the Feed the Future Rwanda Hinga Weze Activity and the Rwanda Agricultural and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB). Funded by USAID, Hinga Weze mobilized the farmers into a cooperative and coached them on good farming and climate smart practices. Hinga Weze aims to improve productivity and incomes for 535,000 farmers, improve nutritional intake for women and children and build the resilience of agriculture to climate changes.
Fully equipped with new skills, Sindikubwabo returned to farming. He also learned to diversify and grow other crops, which he marketed ahead of harvest time in order to minimize losses. Last season alone, Sindikubwabo sold 178 sacks of green pepper and nine tons of watermelon for a combined total of approx. $3,059 (RWF 3,080,000). This adds to $5,294,907 (approx. RWF 5 billion) gained by farmers in sales value for horticulture. Like the other 12,000 farmers on solar-irrigation sites across the four districts, Sindikubwabo is able to plant vegetables and fruits all-year around, unlike previously when they would wait for favorable seasons.
“I’m able to pump water upstream for irrigation without spending a lot of money on fuel and labor,” observed Sindikubwabo. He was also able to use profits from farming to set up a permanent house and a piggery project. He employees four permanent staff and 25 casual laborers, whom he supports with soft loans and vegetables for their families’ welfare.
As Hinga Weze winds up, Sindikubwabo has paid off 90 percent of the bank loan and is now planning to expand his farming business.