Evaluating the impacts, maintenance and sustainability of irrigation in Rwanda

Publication Details

3ie Funded Evaluation, DPW1.1085. A link to the completed study will appear here when available.

Jeremy Magruder, Esdras Byiringiro, Fidele Niyitanga, Florence Kondylis, John Loeser, Maria Jones
Institutional affiliations
None specified
Grant-holding institution
None specified
Sub-Saharan Africa (includes East and West Africa)
Environment and Disaster Management
None specified
Gender analysis
None specified
Gender analysis
Equity Focus
None specified
Evaluation design
Randomised Control Trials (RCT), Regression Discontinuity Design (RDD)
Ongoing 3ie Funded Studies
3ie Funding Window
Development Priorities Window 1


The study will evaluate the impact of five irrigation schemes in Rwanda that have just been constructed as part of the Land Husbandry, Water Harvesting and Hillside Irrigation (LWH) project.


Irrigation investments have enormous potential to improve the lives of smallholder farmers who otherwise depend on rain-fed agriculture, both through increasing yields, adding additional cultivation seasons and reducing risk. Many irrigation schemes fail for lack of collective action over maintenance issues, absence of a water allocation mechanism or for lack of adoption of high value crop.

The Government of Rwanda considers agriculture an engine for the economy (Rwanda Vision 2020; Rwanda’s Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy) and aims to reduce poverty and achieve food security through sustainable agriculture. MINAGRI has plans to expand and scale up hillside irrigation through the development of 9,392 hectares in 2014-2017, and 15,300 hectares in 2017-20.

As irrigation schemes are very costly to be construct, the government is extremely concerned with both the cost-effectiveness and the sustainability of these investments. This impact evaluation will shed light on these central issues, from local to international policy dialogues.

Research questions

  1. What are the impacts of irrigation on smallholder welfare?
  2. What is the impact of escalating irrigation fees on farmer behaviour?
  3. Do self-demonstration kits encourage experimentation and long run adoption? If so, how does this interact with water usage fees?
  4. Does the placement of a monitor within the irrigation scheme affect resource sharing?


Intervention design

The LWH is a flagship project of MINAGRI designed to meet its objectives through a modified watershed approach. It introduces sustainable land husbandry measures for hillside agriculture on selected sites, and develops hillside irrigation for subsections of each site. Construction of the irrigation schemes began in 2012. Three of the sites are completed, and two additional schemes were to be completed by the end of 2016. In each case, hillside terraces were recently rehabilitated; a main canal runs along a contour of the hillside, with a slope prescribed by engineering calculations. Secondary pipes tie into the main canal and bring water down the hillside, where tertiary outlets allow irrigation along individual terraces.

Theory of change

A virtuous cycle occurs when farmers begin to experiment with high value crops: productivities improve as farmers learn how to cultivate high value crops; they use the irrigation system because it is necessary for their cultivation and they properly use and maintain the irrigation system as their production is dependent on it. Additionally, this constant use of the irrigation system allows LWH to collect enough fees to make the irrigation scheme sustainable. Most of the farmland in each of the LWH sites is planted with staple crops (maize and beans). In order to realise the full benefits of these schemes, farmers will have to adopt higher value horticultural crops. Moreover, maintaining and managing the schemes will require a mix of monetary and effort-based fees that will pose substantial challenges.

Evaluation design

A quasi-experimental spatial regression discontinuity approach will be used to provide estimates of the impacts of irrigation on farmers’ welfare, captured by yields, profits, labour markets, rental and land markets, migration, and education. This approach will compare farmers who own land just below the main canal with those who own land just above it. In addition, RCTs will be used to test: 1) the impact of escalating irrigation fees on farmers’ adoption of a high value cropping system and land sales; 2) the impact of experiential learning, through the offer of demonstration mini-kits, on adoption behaviour and fee repayment; and 3) the impact of several components related to operations and maintenance of irrigation.

Media coverage

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