McElroy machines help pave way for Rwandan agricultural school

In the Bugesera District of Rwanda, a TracStar® 412 and a Pit Bull® 26 played a part in a 2020 project to provide an education for students studying agriculture and conservation.

RICA (Rwanda Institute for Conservation and Agriculture) is an English-speaking university that combines research, education, and extension services to students studying agriculture. The university has a focus on Conservation Agriculture, which it defines as using the following practices:

  • Maintaining and/or building soil quality and productivity;
  • Implementing spatially appropriate cropping and livestock systems;
  • Applying nutrient inputs, both organic and inorganic, based on potential for economic crop response;
  • Using pesticides based on economic thresholds and only as part of an integrated pest management approach;
  • Irrigating based on crop water use to maximize profit and water use efficiency;
  • Managing crop and livestock systems to minimize environmental impacts;
  • Integrating livestock and crop production systems efficiency;
  • Utilizing by-products from livestock and crop production;
  • Developing and promoting crop and livestock systems that increase biodiversity.

Bugesera is a district in Eastern Province, Rwanda. The area is located in the central part of the African continent and is prone to droughts, with a higher-than-average daytime temperature than the rest of Rwanda and less average rainfall per year.

Jared Hall, a South-African based HDPE Fusion Specialist contracting with a Rwandan company called Remote Group, said the university, funded by the Howard G. Buffett foundation, exists entirely off-grid. Power comes from a solar field on university property. RICA’s horticulturally-holistic approach to agriculture is also present in its footprint: near the lake that provides water for the campus, there are trees that house acacia bird nests. The dung of acacia birds is nitrogen-rich and provides the university with growing fields that are suited to large harvests.

And with water at a premium, it was imperative for a planned university to have access to both potable and non-potable water.

That’s where McElroy equipment came in.

Fusion operators fused from a 12-inch raw water line that collected from a lake via a river screen to a buffer tank, then from the buffer tank to a treatment plant with both potable and non-potable water tanks using six-inch pipe.

To help weld the bulk of the ring main of potable and non-potable water for the gravity lines to supply student houses, Hall and his team utilized Pit Bull 26, manual machines that combine functionality with a compact and rugged design.

“From there, we welded a network of pipes connecting up to newly-built houses for the first-year students, as well as faculty housing for the teachers and kitchen,” Hall said. “The system provides potable water for the teachers and kitchen, as well as non-potable water for fire suppression. We also connected water to barns for animals nears the students’ houses, along with water sources for chickens and cows.”

The TracStar was responsible for an irrigation pivot that consisted of 200mm OD and 250 OD pipe.

This university is linked to a similar job done in 2016, at Lac Nasho, a Rwandan lake. That irrigation project consisted of fusing 55km of piping with 63 center pivots to bring water to one of the driest areas in Rwanda, Hall said.

“For the Nasho project, we used two TracStar® 900s, a TracStar® 500, as well as two TracStar® 618s,” Hall said. “I’ve only used TracStars. They are brilliant machines.”

The soil in that area was dry and clay-like, Hall said, and the 2,000 or so small farm holders only grew crops when the rain allowed. After that project was complete, the farmers had the opportunity to come together as a collective, still managing their individual pieces of land but planting at set times since they no longer relied on rain.

“It generously increased their yield,” Hall said.

So how are those two projects connected? After RICA students complete their studies, they go on to help those 2,000 small farm holders better their yields, teaching the farmers new and more efficient ways to grow their crops, Hall said.

“Everyone wins at the end of the day, and more carbon is sequestered from the atmosphere,” Hall said.