Akaliza, N., Bodnar, L., Mukarusagara, G., Nzayiramya, S., Turatsinze, F., & Urujeni, R.
Over the last year, the DWFI team in Rwanda has conducted dozens of interviews with business owners, government officials, non-profits, and smallholder farmers. By “getting out of the building” and talking to entrepreneurs, their suppliers, customers, and regulatory authorities, we were able to gain a holistic and personal understanding of the state of irrigation entrepreneurship on the ground in Rwanda.
Our "Rwanda smallholder irrigation ecosystem map" captures irrigation businesses serving smallholder farmers as well as the broader irrigation ecosystem in the country. It includes a range of partners, funders, industries, university programs, and advocates that intersect with and support local businesses. At the center of the map is the smallholder farmer who irrigates, the target customer for our study of entrepreneurship. The surrounding entities are categorized into different functional groups based on how they primarily provide value to the customer. Those entities shown in dark blue have direct contact with farmers. Organizations shown in light green have influence in the irrigation ecosystem but are not primarily working directly with farmers. Click the image above to enlarge.
The main goal of the ecosystem map is to show all the key players surrounding farmers, and their role in the ecosystem. This map can be used by entrepreneurs interested in starting an irrigation business to identify potential customers, suppliers, partners, investors, donors, and other resources. The map can also be used by organizations who want to support entrepreneurship and access to irrigation to learn who is involved, where current efforts are focused, and where there are gaps or opportunities for services and investment. The overarching objective is to strengthen the irrigation entrepreneurship ecosystem in Rwanda, which creates opportunities for innovative solutions to scale-up irrigated agriculture. This map is part of a larger report coming out later this year, in which we key findings needed to understand the ecosystem and our recommendations on how to enhance irrigation entrepreneurship in Rwanda.
Click to learn more about the groups involved in smallholder irrigated agriculture and entrepreneurship.
The business ecosystem supporting smallholder irrigation includes a large and diverse group of interacting entities. Some of these, such as equipment retailers, work directly with smallholder farmers. Others, like some multilateral organizations, work indirectly with smallholders through their program and project support. Below is a description of the functional groups we identified that are involved in, or influence, smallholder irrigation in Rwanda.
Government Extension & Advocacy efforts are led by Small-scale Irrigation Technology (SSIT) agronomists and engineers at the district and sector level. Sector agronomists mobilize farmers to irrigate through extension activities, such as in person meetings and radio shows. The sector agronomist provides information and helps farmers make decisions around irrigation, including the decision to irrigation, what system to use, what equipment to buy, what crops to plant, and how often to irrigate. Sector agronomist supports farmers with completing and filing Small Scale Irrigation Program (SSIT) applications. Although it is not part of their official job description, sector agronomists will often advocate for farmers financial interests if the farmer is challenged to pay his or her portion of the irrigation equipment. This can take the form of agronomists helping connect farmers to donors and microfinance institutions. SSIT engineers provide further technical assistance and support to agronomists, retailers, and farmers.
Equipment Retailers supply irrigation equipment to farmers, install irrigation systems, train farmers on maintenance and operation of the equipment, and perform repairs. SSIT retailers work with the government to provide subsidized equipment to farmers, so that more smallholder farmers can afford irrigation technology. There are opportunities for more equipment start-ups and retailers to bring new technologies and innovations to the agricultural market in Rwanda.
Agronomic Decision Support organizations work closely with farmers to provide extension services and link farmers to markets. This is different than the government agronomist, who oversees an entire sector or district. These agronomic support organizations supplement the activities of the sector agronomist. An important function of these organizations is to create communities of farmers that opt-in to their services, often through social media connections. The entities listed here are groups of young professionals that work through contracts from the government or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to assist farmers in cooperatives in specific areas of the country, based on the local needs.
Another type of agronomic decision support is sensor technology companies, which provide tools that help farmers to know how much to irrigate. Some companies may advise farmers when to irrigate as well. There are currently few sensor technology companies serving smallholder farmers because many farmers cannot afford sensors and do not understand the purpose and importance of sensors in agriculture. Most sensors used by smallholder farmers in Rwanda are from donations. This is an area of potential growth for agtech entrepreneurs. An example of a sensor technology company serving smallholder farmers is Seed Technology Engineering and Science (STES) Group Ltd.
Upstream and Downstream Supply Chain Partners sell input supplies paired with services and education. Agro-dealers provide seed, fertilizer, chemicals, and other inputs to farmers. Different dealerships may also offer paired advisory and extension services, such as marketing assistance or training on nutrition and post-harvest handling.
Aggregators provide financial and technical help by bringing together various information and resources to the farmer. They sometimes implement irrigation projects and are involved in monitoring and evaluation of these projects. Some aggregators will provide small grants directly to farmers. Aggregators may also assist with implementing government policies. For example, AGRA works with the government on seed production, use of inputs, and post-harvest practices.
Finance organizations address the need of smallholder farmers for investments and loans. Non-profit organizations may give money to offset the cost of purchasing equipment. Microfinance organizations and banks assist farmers with access to credit, which enables them to afford irrigation technologies.
Equipment Manufacturers with Wholesale & Retail Networks design, produce, and market equipment, including pumps, pipes, accessories, and spare parts, that are used in irrigation schemes serving smallholder farmers, or owned by individual smallholder farmers. Equipment manufacturers influence the function, quality, and cost of irrigation equipment available in Rwanda. The companies that own the brands do not necessarily own the manufacturing facilities that make the equipment. This category includes manufacturers which manage their own distribution networks and may work directly with equipment retailers or government agencies on the map.
Research & Higher Education institutions create and spread knowledge to people helping smallholder farmers. They study irrigation and agriculture to develop best management practices. These institutions also train future leaders in agriculture. They offer extension services to smallholder farmers, though this is not their primary function.
Multilateral Organizations & Foreign Government Aid Organizations fund and implement different irrigation projects, ranging from large investments in infrastructure to small pumps for farmers. These organizations are often mission-driven and can focus on objectives such as climate change resilience or childhood nutrition. Multilateral organizations leverage their funding to bring together partners and shared financing for projects. In addition to financing, multilateral organizations provide their own technical and extension support.
Development Banks & Funds receive money from various sources, such as donors and multilateral organizations, that are given for specific purposes, like access to irrigation, nutrition education, or post-harvest handling training. Development banks hold these funds and distribute money to other banks and organizations, such as cooperatives and businesses, that meet the criteria for receiving funds. Individual farmers and start-up founders can also apply for grant funds or loans.
Rwanda Government Organizations create, implement, and enforce policies about irrigation and agriculture based on the goals and vision for the country identified through planning. The government sets goals for irrigated land and irrigation equipment sales and tracks progress towards these goals. Government organizations regulate, research, and recommend best practices for many activities, including food processing, post-harvest handling, export of agricultural commodities, land management, seed production, and access to water resources. The government also directs investments in agriculture and irrigation, including managing the SSIT subsidy program and implementing large-scale irrigation projects. Government agencies work closely with other partners, including the private sector, NGOs, and multilateral organizations to implement projects and create policy.
The Rwanda Water Resources Board (RWRB) ensures the availability of enough and well managed water resources for a sustainable development and is directed to monitor water uses in the country and enforces the permitting requirements. Permitting gives water use rights to farmers, cooperatives, and water user associations for agricultural irrigation, livestock, and home consumption. RWRB coordinates with other organizations, such as Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB), to help farmers apply for water use permits. While the permitting process exists, the government currently does not monitor water use at a field-level or enforce irrigation water use restrictions for smallholder farmers. Smallholder farmers also do not pay for the irrigation water that they use.
Operation & Maintenance on Government Projects is done by civil engineering consultancy and construction businesses. They help ensure government-funded projects are well maintained and operated to function as designed and to last for the design life. These companies are selected through government tender.