Makerere University Supports Small Holder Farmers in Rakai District to Harvest Water and to Set-up Small scale Irrigation Gardens to Cope with Effects of Climate

In conjuction with Masaka Diocese Development Organisation (CARITAS-MADDO), a church based NGO,Makerere University has supported ten farmers to construct water tanks for harvesting water from their roofs for both domestic use and irrigation of their kitchen gardens during the dry season. In addition, groups of farmers have also been assisted to set-up small holder irrigation systems to take advantage of a stream that runs through the village to grow high value crops such as vegetables.


This initiative is supported by a project entitled: “Strengthening Universities Capacities for Mitigating Climate Change Induced Water Vulnerability in East Africa” (WATERCAP) funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation under the Austrian Partnership Programme in Higher Education and Research for Development(APPEAR). The project is coordinated by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) and implemented by Makerere University in Uganda and Egerton University in Kenya. The three-year project with the Ugandan component worth 150,000 Euros has been implemented in Rakai and Nakasongola districts since 2011.

Water is a major constraint in Rakai district as not only the water sources dry-up quickly but  also most of the available water sources are salty – hence not good for human consumption and irrigation. As a demonstration, the project has supported the construction of water tanks for water harvesting from farmers’ iron sheet-roofs. The tanks of average capacity of 24 cubic metres can sustain the families throughout the dry season and also provide excess water, which they can use to grow vegetables in their kitchen gardens. The farmers have been trained to prepare and manage kitchen gardens where they are producing vegetables for home consumption and for sale especially in the dry season when vegetables are very expensive.

In addition to water harvesting technology, a group of 25 vegetable producers called Agaliawamu operating near a stream running through Kijuna B Village in Ddwaniro sub-county have been supported to set-up a more efficient small scale irrigation system for commercial production of vegetables in the dry season. The group is engaged in production of tomatoes, cabbages, eggplants and also operate a coffee nursery.

         Some of the farmers group members fixing water pipes to the pump

At Makerere University the project is coordinated by Assoc. Prof. Paul Kibwika (the Principal Investigator) and Dr. Florence Kyazze from the Department of Extensions and Innovation Studies; and Eng. Dr. Nicholas Kiggundu from the Department of Agricultural and Bio-systems Engineering.

Dr.Kyazze Florence explained that in Rakai, the project has two categories of beneficiaries.  The first category is focussing on water harvesting and production of vegetables mainly for household consumption but also for income – the majority being women. These were supported to construct water harvesting tanks and trained to prepare and manage kitchen vegetable gardens.

The other category of farmers produce vegetables on commercial level and these are supported to set-up a small-scale irrigation system managed by the group to enhance their production and productivity during the dry season when the prices for vegetables is highest.Two student interns from CAES work with the farmers to provide technical advise as they also learn to work with communities on development initiatives.

A small-scale irrigation system makes huge difference in the production of vegetables.

The Mak dons designed a simple irrigation system and trained a group of farmers code-named Agaliawamu Farmers Group in Kijuna B village to use a small water pump to facilitate irrigation to boost vegetable production.

 Dr. Florence Kyazze said, although they initially intended to concentrate on water harvesting technology, she was convinced and impressed by the group led by the LC1 chairman who were making an effort but using labour-intensive and inefficient practices. The group of farmers were watering their crops manually using watering cans, which limited the size of plots they cultivated.

“ We discussed with them options for increasing efficiency and acreage and we accepted to support them in designing a small-scale irrigation system. So I requested Eng. Dr. Kiggundu who is an Agricultural Engineer to assist the group in designing an appropriate irrigation system”, She narrated.

              Farmers water their  vegetable gardens as a group

Dr. Kyazze hailed farmers for embracing the technology and for following the advice given by the experts saying it was indeed satisfying to work with a group like this, “Because of their commercial orientation they fully understood the importance of the irrigation system and only needed a little support to get to the next level of their development. The project only provided them with a small water pump,which they use to pump water from the stream to their fields. They are well organized and have already put in place a system for management and maintenance of the pump”, She said.

The technology has also enhanced the group’s cohension, commitment and desire to pool resources including labour for their mutual benefit. The group plans to buy another pump from their sales by next year. Dr. Kyazze however  observed that there were still challenges, requiring some adaptations and improvements in the technology for efficiency and some capacity building in business management aspects such as record keeping but also noted that this is an ongoing process.


 Left is Dr. Kyazze Florence with a group of farmers watreing the LC1 chairman's tomato garden

In addition to the student interns (undergraduates) Dr.Kyazze stated that so far three MSc students including two from Austria are conducting research with the project beneficiaries in Rakai district. The graduate students are researching on improving the design of the irrigation systems, establishing the watering regimes, optimum acreages and cropping patterns that can be supported by the sources of water available as well as the social issues  around irrigation and water harvesting technologies, “We want empirical evidence to guide further improvements, which the studies will provide. We also want these farmers to be more organized to bulk the produce in order to access lucrative markets and be price setters,” Dr.Kyazze promised to consult with other scientist on the possibility of acquiring better yielding and more disease resistant vegetable varieties such as the MT56  tomato.

Eng. Dr. Kigundu explained that the farmers were found practicing irrigation but using very labour intensive practices  - carrying water from wells to big containers (about 200 litres) in their garden and thereafter use watering cans to water the crops. It would take a lot of labour and time. “What we did was to get a quick fix by acquiring a small economical and portable pump of about 4 kg with a discharge of 100 litres per minute, "We connected pipes, blocked it at one end and put small holes to spray the water. With this, three people can irrigate their gardens at the same time up to a distance of more than 200 metres away from the water source but the pump has the capacity to push water up to even half a kilometre”.

With this simple technology it now takes them only a couple of hours to irrigate a half an acre unlike before when it would take them three days. Eng. Kigundu also observed that when the water level goes down, it gets more salty, which is not good for crops.

    Dr. Nicholas Kiggundu (R) Msc Student and farmers asses the drainage system

Eng. Kigundu encouraged farmers to extend the technology further and co-opt other members from the surrounding communities to utilise the swamps so that the percentage they retain from their harvest can help them to buy even a higher capacity pump to take advantage of economies of scale. “If this is done the intervention will not only increase the incomes of the farmers but will also create employment as many people will be required to harvest and carry out other activities in the value chain - a small project like this can change the livelihood of many people”. Eng Kigundu said.

The LC1 Chairman Kijuna zone B Mr. Muyanja John appreciated the University for extending the knowledge and skills to his village and for sending students to address farmers’ challenges. “After getting the pump we decided to organize monthly meetings, drafted our constitution and agreed to expand wells as reservoirs of water for irrigation to improve on our production. We are doing very well with our pump and we are producing vegetables despite the dry season.” The Local councillor stated. 

Group members showing newly opened up land and water source for irrigation

Muyanja also disclosed that members agreed to charge 10% of each farmer’s sales and deposit it with the treasurer to maintain the pump.“In future we plan to buy another pump from these savings possibly start a SACCO to provide credit to the members and other farmers in the village, and a small interest rate would be charged". The councillor added.

Mr.Kasusula Fredrick- a vegetable farmer said he no longer suffers from back and shoulder pain resulting from lifting watering cans and now utilises less time to water the garden.“I used to prepare a small garden because of the labour required but now I have a bigger plot. In this season, I hope to harvest at least 70 boxes in total, and each box costs 80,000 shillings meaning I will get over shs. 5,000,000 this season.” He said

Mr.Luyinda Achile Chitengo alias photoman grows tomatoes and also raises coffee seedlings. He said the pump motivated him to expand his coffee nursery to diversify his income by raising Elite coffee seedlings. He sells every coffee seedling at 300/=. “Right now I have five thousand trees but my target is to pack 10 thousand trees worth 3million, out of this I would have used 600 thousand shillings only as input”, Luyinda said.

One of the farmer's tomato garden in Kijuna B  ready for harvesting

He greatly appreciated the training by Eng. Kiggundu on operation and maintenance of the pump – it has since made him a mechanic and a senior machine operator. “For me now I use only one hour to irrigate my tomatoes and coffee and the rest of the day, I go to do my photography work”, Luyinda said.

Construction of tanks for harvesting water for domestic use and kitchen garden vegetable production

Ten households in Kijuna B and Bigando village were supported to construct underground tanks for harvesting water for home use and kitchen garden vegetable production during the dry season. They grow vegetables in small gardens of 1m by 3m.Eng. Nicholas Kiggundu explained that Makerere University was introduced to this community by CARITAS MADDO which had a similar initiative of water harvesting but focusing on domestic water use.

     Side view of one of the  constructed water tanks in Rakai

The WATERCAP project decided to build on this initiative by introducing bigger tanks to harvest enough water that could also be used for irrigation of kitchen vegetable gardens to improve the household nutrition and incomes. Eng. Kiggundu explained that the tanks have minimum capacity of 24,000 litres about 1200 jerrycans which is a lot of water given that on average, people in water stressed areas use 20 litres per day.”

L- R Mrs Sempa Salong &Eng Kigundu, Dr. Kyazze Florence, Master student and Mr. Sempa Salongo. In the background is the house connected to the water tank

Eng. Dr. Kiggundu explained that the recipients were responsible for excavating the pits and provided the labour during the construction of the tanks. The project supported them with the tarpaulin for retaining the water, sand, cement, gutters, timber, construction labour, and iron sheets.

He further emphasized that more important is that the skills for constructing the water tanks is within the community. “They have seen how we make tanks; the masons are children from this area and we are encouraging them to document and share the skills for replicability” Eng. Kiggundu said.

He said the cost of this technology was between 1.5million shillings..“What we found interesting is that,the farmers themselves devised a simple mechanism for drawing the water from the tanks – they get a stick of one or two meters and tie a small container which can scoop about 3-5 litres”. Dr. Kiggundu explained farmers argued that this method conserves water than drawing water using a pump.

Eng. Nicholas Kigundu explaining the technicalities behind the  construction of water tanks

The tarpaulin used to line the tanks measures (30ft by 30 ft) and is available in towns at Sh. 120,000 shillings. This can last for about five years in a termite free area and it is easy to replace. Alternatively a 1 mm thick ultra violet resistant (UV) hard material polythene of the same dimension which lasts up to 10 years will go for three million. The challenge with the tarpaulin is that it can easily be damaged by termites but  a polythene (30ft by 30ft) was put before laying the tarpaulin to reduce this risk.

Chairperson Agaliawamu Farmers group Ms. Nakanwagi Immaculate, one of the beneficiaries said; “Water is very scarce during the dry season. In dry season we fetch water from wells over two miles away. This project is helping us to get water for home use and also to irrigate our kitchen vegetable gardens.” She said the group meets twice a month and each member contributes 500/=. The money is loaned out at an interest of Shs. 2,000 on every Shs. 10,000 per month. “I very much thank Makerere University for supporting us to construct the tanks to harvest water.” She said.

 Nakanwagi Immaculate showing where to get water from tank

Similarly Mr. And Mrs Sempa Vincent Salongo is another couple that benefitted. In their courtyard, what welcomes you are the beautiful and well-cared for vegetable gardens.“We have got what we never expected because before we used to suffer during the dry season but at least now we have water to for domestic use and for irrigating our vegetable gardens and when rains come again, we shall simply refill the tank”. They said.

 Mr & Mrs Sempa Salongo caring for their  kitchen  garden