Sugar cane production. © Royal HaskoningDHV

In 2011, flooding affected 80% of Rwanda's sugarcane estates along the Nyabarongo River. The reduced harvest has pushed the price of sugar to unaffordable levels. Royal HaskoningDHV participates in a water management infrastructure project to rehabilitate former drainage routes and old river courses to drain the flood plains much faster - as nature intended.

Population boom and climate impact coupled with Rwanda's unique geography has led to severe environmental degradation and a scarcity of productive land. In addition, soil erosion and river delta flooding have created problems for the country's important sugarcane crop.

Land Assignment

In 1998, the government assigned 3,100ha of land along the Nyabarongo River in rural Kigali to the country's sole sugar producer. Another similar sized area was given to independent out-growers. Much of this land however is situated on flood plains and almost half of it is uncultivated due to a very high risk of flooding and continuous water stagnation.

Living with Water - An Innovative Solution

As part of a larger programme of work, a new water management infrastructure project is now underway in partnership with Kabuye Sugar Works and other private and public sector organisations from Rwanda and the Netherlands.

Deputy Project Manager Geertjo van Dijk explains, "Rather than fight the predictable annual flood and produce embankments, we plan to rehabilitate former drainage routes and old river courses to drain the flood plains much faster - as nature intended. We will fortify any weak spots along the river bank to avoid inflow from the river onto the flood plains, and will be helping local farmers to maintain the system using improved local methods."

Using 'building with nature' approaches like this means the work has minimal impact on the environment and ongoing maintenance can be managed easily by local farmers, making the whole project highly sustainable.

Good communication with farmers and other stakeholders lies at the heart of the project. Van Dijk again, "We have a steering committee in place to manage important firm-farm relations. It's so worthwhile because as well as gaining local commitment and building our knowledge of sugarcane's tolerance to water, we're able to further support locals with labouring work in the creation of the drainage channels - enhancing the local society together."

We are responsible for the Water Management component: feasibility study, pre-design, detailed design, contract and supervision for the implementation of water management infrastructure, aiming at improving the condition for sugar cane production.

Royal HaskoningDHV is part of Public Private Partnership (PPP) 'Sugar: Make it Work' that further consists of TechForce Innovations (Lead Partner), Kabuye Sugar Works, Milan Innovincy, Karisimbi Business Partners, Wageningen University (Department of Environmental Sciences), Stichting Dienst Landbouwkundig Onderzoek (Centre for Development Innovation), Stichting BiD Network, the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources of the Republic of Rwanda and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands within the Facility for Sustainability Entrepreneurship and Food Security.