Tackling drought: How an Irish potato farmer got yield under scorching sun

By Emmanuel Ntirenganya

In one farming season, a scorching sun did not make Joseph Gafaranga waver, rather, he was so determined that he moved on and planted two tonnes of Irish potato seeds that he had bought at Rwf350 a kilogramme.

He grew the crop on one-hectare farmland in Musanze District, Northern Province, Rwanda.

In the eyes of many residents in his area, the agricultural inputs including seeds, fertilisers, which he invested in ‘dry soil’, was a risk and, indeed, a lost investment.

But, Gafaranga had a secret. As he had had chance to make farming study tours in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Israel,  he got experience on how farming can be carried out even during dry spell, and the farmer still get good harvest.

“In Israel, Mali and Burkina Faso, irrigation technique enables farmers to grow crops during drought and they get good yields all along the year without rain. They do not rely on rain-fed agriculture,” Gafaranga expressed.

During dry season, Irish potato prices soar to about Rwf350 a kilogramme, and of course, because there is not enough produce in the country, that can result in food shortage. That is what Gafaranga wanted to address through demystifying the fact that carrying out agriculture during drought was futile.  

Irish potato crop takes up between three and four months to give yield.

How he managed to get yield without rain

To manage to irrigate his crops, Gafaranga testifies, he made a hole near his field and a dam sheet was installed into it. The tent was intended to it retained rain water that was channeled into it. That was when rain fell in the area, before the dry season that started in early June when Gafaranga grew his Irish potatoes.

“It’s that water which was used by the people I employed to irrigate my potatoes by means of watering cans,” he said.

On the matter of investment he made, he said, to produce a kilogramme of Irish potatoes, he invested Rwf110, and that irrigation activities added some Rwf10 making it Rwf120.

He harvested 15 tonnes per hectare, but noted that he could harvest even more did he further enhance his irrigation technique.

After harvest, he sold Irish potato produce at Rwf170 a kilogramme then. 

Having tasted the fruit of irrigation through tackling drought, the farmer has embraced the practice as it is productive.

“Having been able to get such a yield by applying rudimentary irrigation technique, it is obvious that I can produce more once I use advanced irrigation technologies which can provide crops with adequate water needs,” Gafaranga said.

Need to enable irrigation for climate resilience

Effective irrigation equipment (consisting of an engine and irrigation accessories) cost over Rwf1 million. But, smallholder farmers say that they cannot afford them.

For Mads Knudsen, a private sector development economist at Vanguard Economics, irrigation is a practice that will require a lot of money, but which is worth investing in a bid to tackle drought  as it will probably still be experienced and adversely affect crop productivity.

He was speaking earlier this month about the priorities of the fourth Strategic Plan for the Transformation of Agriculture (PSTA4) in which is currently being drafted by experts.

Figures from the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) show that about 48,000 hectares are irrigated scheme so far, of which about 5,600 are covered under small scale irrigation whereby the government, through subsidy, covers 50 percent of the cost of irrigation equipment. 

Dr. Octave Semwaga, Director General for Strategic Planning and Programmes Coordination at MINAGRI said farmers should practice irrigation as one of the means to combatting climate change effects which cause crop failure.

As the government has introduced agriculture insurance, Semwaga said this move will increase investment and financing in agriculture because the risks that banks and investors have been fearing, such as bad weather and crop diseases, will be dealt with.

This development, coupled with government’s enhanced efforts as well as partnership with the private sector, will enable the country to irrigate all the 600,000 hectares of farmland that need irrigation by 2050, according to Semwaga.


Gafaranga exhibiting some Irish potato produce during the 12th National Agriculture Show at Mulindi showground, in Gasabo District, Kigali, June 23, 2017 (Emmanuel Ntirenganya)

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Elias Hakizimana

Elias Hakizimana, CEO&Founder of The Inspirer Ltd,(www.rwandainspirer.com) is a professional Rwandan Journalist with Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Communication, received from University of Rwanda’s College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS) in 2014. He served various media houses in Rwanda including Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA) in 2013 and became passionate with English Online and Print Media Publications where he exercised his talent as a Freelance News Reporter for The New Times, The Independent, The Rwanda Focus, Panorama and more before he became a Self-Entrepreneur as the CEO and Founder of The Inspirer Limited in early 2017.

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