FAO in Uganda

Solar-powered irrigation to beat climate change, improve fortunes of farmers in Uganda

Sprinkler irrigation system recently installed in Lwabenge, Kalungu District

Residents of Bugomola A, Lwabenge sub-county in Kalungu district have reason to smile to and from their communal farm after they became the first beneficiaries in their district, of the solar-powered irrigation system from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Uganda’s climate change programme. FAO will install 40 small scale solar-powered irrigation systems in Uganda’s dryland central cattle corridor region.

The irrigation system, which uses energy from the sun and therefore eliminates farmers’ challenges with access to reliable electricity or fossil fuels, has the capacity to irrigate up to 10 acres of land and pump larger volumes of water on hot days, when the crops and animals need water the most. The system will reduce energy costs for irrigation and this improves many farmers’ access to water and can have knock-on effects on agricultural productivity and incomes.

Kalungu District’s Hazard, Risk and Vulnerability Profile reveals that the district is almost semi-arid in areas of Lwabenge, some parts of Kyamulibwa and Kalungu sub-counties. Of these three however, Lwabenge Sub-county is the driest, in a district that receives only two sparse rain seasons and unevenly distributed rainfall. And yet, agriculture, livestock farming and fishing are the main economic activities, requiring regular supply of water.

According to Josephine Namagga Muwanga, a member of Lwabenge Integrated Farmer Field School, tomato growing is their most income-generating enterprise, and it needs constant supply of water.

“To benefit from growing tomatoes, timely irrigation is vital; missing a day without it can severely affect the crop quality and yield”, she said. “We have been depending on expensive diesel generators to pump water from the river to our garden for irrigation. Most times we were discouraged by the costs associated with hiring, transporting and repairing these generators. Now we are very happy and grateful to FAO for giving us a facility that will enable us to have a constant water supply on our farm,” she added.

Muwanga and her colleagues are optimistic about improved production and productivity on their farm in the subsequent seasons.

“The way it has been constructed allows enough water to flow in our garden. We believe that we will get more from our crops. We hope that the government can help us address market challenges because when we harvest a lot, the market is not responsive. We end up selling our produce at very low prices, often making losses,” Muwanga said.

Speaking during the launch of the solar-powered irrigation systems in Kalungu district in May 2021, Antonio Querido- FAO Representative in Uganda noted that the systems will complement government of Uganda’s efforts to empower communities and farmers in districts vulnerable to drought and climate variability, to cope with climate change and improve their farming outcomes, fostering all-year round production through the provision of water for irrigation.

“With the new sprinkler system, we are confident that farmers will have access to water for dry season agricultural activities,” Querido said.  “The system will not only increase agricultural production and returns to small scale farmers, but will also elevate their livelihoods”, he added.

Agriculture Minister and Member of Parliament for Kalungu East Constituency- Honourable Vincent Ssempijja, commended FAO for “changing lives of the people,” to whom the four solar irrigation systems in Kalungu will serve as a demonstration of modern agricultural practices. “Access to irrigation will provide farmers with a more reliable income since one farm can produce several yields in a year” he said.

“Agriculture in the cattle corridor region of Uganda is rain-fed and highly dependent on local weather conditions. This means that farming activities have to be put on hold during the dry season.

The solar-powered irrigation facility is part of the multi-million dollar Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA) Project that aims to strengthen the resilience of rural populations and agricultural production systems through provision of water for irrigation in 33 districts of Uganda’s cattle corridor. In Kalungu district, FAO will install four solar-powered irrigation systems. Other beneficiary districts include Gomba, Kiboga, Luwero, Mubende, Nakaseke, Nakasongola, Rakai and Sembabule.

FAO has been implementing the GCCA project in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), with financial support from the European Union, since 2012, to increase agriculture adaptation to climate change through the establishment of small scale irrigation systems in Uganda’s Central Cattle Corridor. FAO’s Climate Change programme has since expanded to include districts in West Nile (Adjumani, Arua, Koboko, Maracha, Moyo, Nebbi, Yumbe and Zombo), Karamoja (Abim, Amudat, Moroto, Nakapiripirit and Napak) and Eastern Uganda (Amolator, Amuria, Buyende, Kaberamaido, Kamuli, Katakwi and Kayunga). All these areas experience serious effects of the changing climate, including long dry spells, flash floods, erratic rainfall and emergence of new plant pests and animal diseases.

According to Dennis Besigye, Irrigation Specialist at FAO Uganda, solar is a great fit with irrigation because on sunny days when plants need water most, the solar powered irrigation systems provide the required volumes to match the crop requirements. Besigye advised farmers’ groups to exercise vigilance and guard the solar irrigation systems in their areas against vandalism and theft.

FAO Uganda’s climate change programme also receives financial support from the Government of Sweden and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF).