You are here:

PURE.Ag: advancing solar irrigation in Rwanda


The launch of PURE.Ag, a collaboration between Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Mercy Corps-Energy 4 Impact, and the European Cooperative for Rural Development (EUCORD), marks a significant stride towards fostering sustainable development in Rwanda’s agriculture sector. With a focus on accelerating the adoption of solar irrigation, PURE.Ag aims to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and advance climate-smart agricultural practices.

At an inception workshop held at the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) on 19th March 2024, public sector stakeholders, solar water pumping systems distributors, financial institutions, and development organisations came together to kickstart this transformative initiative. The workshop focused on exploring potential business models and strategies to drive the adoption of productive use of energy technologies among Rwanda’s smallholder farmers.

Agriculture plays a crucial role in Rwanda’s economy, employing around 70% of the population and contributing significantly to the GDP. However, only 2% of farmers have access to motorised irrigation, most of whom primarily depend on diesel-powered systems. This heavy reliance on rain-fed agriculture exposes farmers to various challenges, including droughts and erratic rainfall patterns, impacting food security.

Recognising the need for change, the Government of Rwanda has prioritised irrigation to enhance productivity and socio-economic development. With an ambitious target to double irrigated land by 2024, Rwanda has introduced subsidy programmes in collaboration with the Rwanda Agriculture Board and the World Bank to encourage the adoption of solar water pumps (SWPs). However, despite these efforts, the SWP market in Rwanda remains underdeveloped.

One key challenge is the issue of affordability. While subsidies have been a step in the right direction, the initial costs of solar water pumps remain a hurdle for low-income farmers. Diesel water pumps, with their lower initial cost, still attract farmers despite higher overall operational expenses and environmental drawbacks. In comparison, SWPs offer a more sustainable option, with lower lifetime costs estimated to be between 22% and 56% of diesel pumps and a potential payback period of up to 24 months, as seen in more mature markets like Uganda.

PURE.Ag aims to address the systemic challenges of this nascent market by adopting a private sector-led approach that tackles the barriers affecting both supply and demand. Leveraging successful programmes such as Energy 4 Impact’s Solar Irrigation in Rwanda (SIR) EUCORD's Uhira Wunguke, and EnDev’s productive use of renewable energy initiatives, PURE.Ag will implement consumer credit schemes, provide technical assistance to SWP suppliers and farmers, and introduce a robust supply-side results-based financing (RBF) mechanism to encourage credit-based adoption.  With a targeted focus on the districts of Ngoma, Bugesera, Rwamagana, Gatsibo, Kayonza, and Nyagatare in the Eastern Province, PURE.Ag seeks to establish a sustainable foundation for a thriving SWP market, driving innovation and growth in Rwanda’s agriculture sector.

During the workshop, Dr. Oliver Kamana, the Permanent Secretary for Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources, described PURE.Ag as a pivotal contributor to Rwanda’s agricultural sector and the ministry’s master plan. Highlighting the pressing challenges faced by smallholder farmers, stemming from climate change and limited financial resources, Dr. Kamana noted that PURE.Ag’s intervention couldn’t come at a more opportune time. He assured unwavering government support, emphasising PURE.Ag’s role in collective efforts for meaningful progress in agriculture.

Together, let us embark on a journey towards sustainable agricultural practices, sowing the seeds of prosperity and resilience within the agricultural community,

he concluded.

Pancras Odhiambo, Project Manager from Energy 4 Impact added,

We’re thrilled to have brought together diverse voices to engage in a dialogue addressing challenges, opportunities, and priorities across Rwanda’s agriculture, solar irrigation, and PURE sectors. One of our aims for this event was to foster meaningful discussions and explore how private sector-led mechanisms can bolster these sectors, ultimately driving increased adoption of solar water pumping and other PURE technologies among smallholder farmers in Rwanda.

At the event, the project team announced the launch of a public call for proposals aimed at local SWP suppliers. The call encourages companies to co-develop business models and financing solutions tailored to serving these vital segments of Rwanda's economy.

PURE.Ag is a new component under the Energising Development (EnDev) programme. EnDev is an international flagship programme for providing energy access supported by Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland. PURE.Ag runs for 15 months, from September 2023 to December 2024. The project targets to reach at least 400 smallholder farmers as direct beneficiaries of SWP technologies, training on the operation of these systems, training on good agricultural practices, linkage with farm produce aggregators and markets, as well as business advisory.