Solar-powered irrigation: Climate-proofing communities in Mozambique and Rwanda

In drought and flood-prone communities in Mozambique and Rwanda, low carbon initiatives are introducing renewable solar-powered irrigation systems to reduce the use of fossil fuels and increase climate resilience.

Solar-powered irrigation has provided more than 10,000 people in Mozambique with access to water © Inês Mourão/CAOS

Solar-powered pumps are changing the lives of smallholder farmers in Mozambique and Rwanda by generating the power needed for sustainable irrigation. In Rwanda, the energy produced by this renewable source is used in the savannahs and marshland areas in the east of the country, which have long been plagued by recurrent droughts. In Mozambique, the systems are providing nine communities, which are vulnerable to severe and prolonged droughts and flash floods, with water fit for human consumption, as well as agricultural and irrigation purposes.

Plan°C is an international initiative to mitigate climate change in Cabo Verde, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe. The Community Adaptation Action Plan (PACA) project was implemented in Mozambique between 2013 and 2016 which Inês Mourão, general coordinator for the project, says has ‘climate-proofed’ previously vulnerable communities. “The water is pumped from a nearby river or small creek to tanks, drinking troughs and water storage reservoirs,” Mourão explains. Two years after the conclusion of the initiative, “More than 10,000 people still enjoy easy access to water, even during drought periods,” she adds.

The low-carbon project reduces the need for fossil fuels to pump water and promotes climate-smart conservation agriculture, such as planting drought resistant crops, establishing horticultural nurseries and implementing new agroprocessing techniques. Based on community needs, new activities are scheduled to be launched throughout 2018, with another 12 communities, selected by Mozambique’s Government, set to benefit from the scheme up until 2020.

In Rwanda, a pilot initiative using solar-powered irrigation has been jointly implemented by the Rwanda Agriculture Board and FAO since November 2017. The project covers 1,300 ha of marshland areas and has already provided over 580 farmers with sustainable irrigation. Some of the surplus power generated by the pumps is also transferred to the national grid and used to light homes and schools in the area.

Gerard Munyeshuri Gatete, a bean grower in Rwanda’s Nyagatare district, uses a solar-powered pump to irrigate his 8 ha farm. It pumps water from 60 m underground to irrigate his crops during drought periods. Of the funds set aside for the initiative, €163,000 has been allocated to subsidise procurement of pumps for farmers. Gatete and his family paid 25% of the cost of the equipment, which pumps about 3.5 m3 of water per hour. “Before we had this innovative pump, we would harvest about 1 t of beans per hectare, but now we harvest almost double,” says Gatete.

Rita Vaz da Silva & Aimable Twahirwa

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.