Good Food for Cities

Sustainable water management for resilient communities in rural Tanzania

September 19, 2023

Despite having an ideal climate and soil for agriculture, farmers in the Meru and Rungwe districts of Tanzania are struggling to realise their potential due to the effects of climate change, water scarcity, and socio-economic factors. To tackle this, Rikolto, Simusolar and the Government of Flanders through the G-STIC Climate Action Programme are working to promote water-efficient solar-powered drip irrigation and sustainable water management. A model that not only optimises water usage but also reduces the environmental pressure of vegetable and fruit farming by emitting no greenhouse emissions. The aim is to strengthen farmers' resilience and increase their income through sustainable agricultural production.

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Meru district in Arusha (region) and Rungwe District in Mbeya.

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Smallholder farmers that produce vegetables or fruit in the Northern or Southern Highlands of Tanzania.

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2023 - 2026


In Tanzania's Meru and Rungwe districts, over 75% of households rely on agriculture for their livelihood. However, high population density and small plot sizes limit farming potential.

While the climate and soil are ideal for agriculture, erratic weather patterns with increased peak rain events and prolonged dry spells, combined with a temperature increase of 1-1.5°C over the last four decades, have led to water scarcity and reduced yields.

Tanzania has had six major droughts over the past 30 years and poor socio-economic factors exacerbate these climate change effects, making agricultural communities more vulnerable.

Fortunately, there is hope. Small plots can still be profitable with the right approach. The high prices of vegetables and fruits make them a viable option for smallholder farmers, but consistent watering is necessary to produce good-quality crops. Water scarcity leads to failed harvests and low-quality products, pushing farmers to shift to more drought-resistant but less profitable crops such as cassava. This shift not only reduces the availability of fresh produce in local markets but also lowers the income generated from agriculture, exacerbating poverty reduction efforts.

Although climate adaptation strategies exist, smallholder farmers often lack access to finance, knowledge, and technologies to adopt them. Common irrigation techniques, such as open canal irrigation and diesel-powered water pumps, have high evaporation rates and environmental pressures. The adoption of different watering techniques, such as drip irrigation, could significantly reduce water usage and loss in evaporation.

Our approach

Demonstrating the benefits of integrated solar-powered drip irrigation systems

We will expand the existing automated pump design to a full irrigation system design, including rainwater harvesting capacity. This will enable us to demonstrate solar-powered drip irrigation systems designed at the farm level to 9,000 smallholder farmers through 40 demonstration plots in the Meru and Rungwe districts.

We will also expand Simusolar's capacity to be the point of contact for complete irrigation system solutions.

We will document a business case for farmers to adopt solar-powered drip irrigation and facilitate new market linkages to secure market access and increased selling prices for high-quality vegetables and fruits in targeted value chains.

Implementing sustainable water management practices

We will integrate various techniques to support further water sustainability on 40 demonstration plots, such as irrigation scheduling, crop cover planting, and mulching to reduce evaporation.

We will also introduce rainwater harvesting techniques on demonstration plots to reduce the water extracted from wells and rivers. Our goal is to reduce water usage from natural water sources by 70%.

We will establish water-user associations to facilitate sustainable water management on a community scale and engage with local authorities to support integrated solar-powered drip irrigation systems.

Scaling up integrated solar-powered drip irrigation systems

We will roll-out a communication campaign to promote the business case of solar-powered drip irrigation and establish a system of on-farm services by our partner Simusolar, offering integrated irrigation system design to at least 700 farmers and delivering support for farmers with irrigation systems.

We will stimulate scale-up and increase affordability of solar-powered irrigation systems with 35% - 50% system purchase support for at least 700 early adopting farmers in Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Mbeya, and Songwe region.

We will co-create a financing model with Simusolar and two financial institutions suitable for smallholder farmers to access integrated irrigation systems.

Finally, we will provide training for 9000 farmers on climate adaptation strategies to build resilience against erratic water availability, including efficient use of solar-powered drip irrigation systems, sustainable water management, and good farming practices.

This project contributes to the Tanzania National Strategy for Responding to Climate Change 2022 - 2026.

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Expected results

  • Smallholder farmers in Meru and Rungwe districts will increase crop productivity by 40% and improve crop quality, leading to a 25% increase in selling price/kg. This will be achieved through secure water supply for cultivation and reduced dependency on fossil fuels.
  • The project will reduce water volume used through diversified sources of water and increase efficiency in water usage.
  • By January 2026, at least 700 vegetable and fruit farming households in Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Mbeya, and Songwe regions will adopt affordable solar-powered drip irrigation and sustainable water management practices.

Who do we work with?

Government of Flanders


Shukuru Tweve

Cocoa Coordinator & Food Smart City & Horticulture Senior Agribusiness Advisor

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