This fall, staff at DWFI launched a new research project in Rwanda. While Rwanda has an economy that is growing 8 percent each year, much of the population remains in poverty and goes to sleep hungry. As agriculture is the main economic driver in Rwanda, the Rwandan government has recognized the need to develop irrigation as a means to alleviate poverty, increase food security and mitigate risk from climate-induced droughts. Between now and 2024, the Rwandan government hopes to double the area that is irrigated. To achieve this goal, the government has been implementing and evaluating a variety of irrigation methods with farmers. In addition, there is a small but growing entrepreneurial community that is providing agronomic and irrigation services.
That's where DWFI comes in: this November, Nick Brozović, DWFI director of policy; Caleb Milliken, DWFI program associate; and Vivian Nguyen, DWFI program coordinator; traveled to Rwanda to learn more about the variety of business models being used for smallholder irrigation service provision. The team met with participants in irrigated agriculture, including government leaders, non-government (NGO) staff, entrepreneurs, and smallholder farmers to gain better understanding of what is happening on the ground in Rwanda. An important goal of the research is to use entrepreneurial tools and methods – such as a business model template – to understand the financial sustainability and scaling potential of the diverse range of existing irrigation provision business models.
"This was a very successful trip," said Brozović. “Everyone we met was passionate about irrigated agriculture, enthusiastic to share their ideas and experiences, and interested to help us understand key issues and context."
The team is producing reports and case studies on the business models reviewed, and will return to Rwanda in 2019 to continue their research. "We're also excited to incorporate the undergraduate students in our Water for Food Global SEEDS Learning Community into the research in Rwanda. This trip and the contacts we made are helping us plan a meaningful experience for our students to learn about international agricultural development through the lens of business and water entrepreneurship," said Brozović.
During their time in Rwanda, the DWFI team worked closely with Volta Irrigation, a group comprised of undergraduate students at the African Leadership University who believe farming is the main livelihood of the poor and a mainstay of many countries’ economies. Using mostly locally produced materials, Volta Irrigation has designed a low-cost, efficient and eco-friendly pumping system called “Alma Volta.” The system integrates an inverter, a battery, a pump and a stationary bicycle to produce energy for irrigation. With Alma Volta, a farmer can pull and push 400,000 liters of water, enough to irrigate 40 hectares of farmland, with just 20 minutes of pedaling. The system can be built and maintained by local farming cooperatives, who in turn expect to decrease the cost of irrigating their farmlands by 75 percent and increase their productivity 12 fold.