Africa, Environment

Tanzanian farmers dig trenches to fight drought, desertification

Villagers sow grass seeds to give parched land new lease of life

Kizito Makoye   | 16.06.2022
Tanzanian farmers dig trenches to fight drought, desertification

ENGARUKA, Tanzania

Residents of the northern Tanzanian village of Engaruka are using surprisingly simple technology to fight drought and keep desertification at bay, thus improving crop yields and access to animal feed.

In the sun-fried village in Monduli district in the Arusha region, recurring drought spells have made farming nearly impossible, with the soil too dry to plant anything according to agricultural experts.

But with the help of non-governmental organizations, residents are not deterred and are instead encouraged to plant trees and vegetation in a way that encourages moisture collection to alleviate the situation.

Armed with hand hoes, villagers in the semi-arid region adeptly dig semicircular trenches into the earth so that when it rains, water fills in instead of quickly evaporating from the parched ground, experts said.

Linda Mlimbo, a soil scientist working with the LEAD Foundation, a Tanzanian conservation organization, said the method has successfully helped villagers revive swathes of farmland.

Mlimbo said through this method, grass seeds are sewn into the trenches, and as they germinate, they bind the soil together, preventing erosion and keeping it cool while restoring vegetation on the barren land.

“When more people learn this simple but important technique, we believe drought and desertification can easily be tamed,” she told Anadolu Agency.

The brainchild of Justdiggit, a local non-governmental organization operating in Kenya and Tanzania since 2013, Mlimbo said more than 200,000 "bunds" have been dug in various parts of the country.

Grass seed banks

The charity helps communities build grass seed banks and supports reforesting with 9 million trees planted using a method known as Farmer Managed Natural Resource Regeneration, Mlimbo said.

By revegetating degraded land, the conservationists aim to increase pastures and arable land for the local Maasai communities in northern Tanzania. Through this initiative, the charity aims to restore 130 million hectares of degraded land by 2030, officials said.

It is midday in Engaruka, and a legion of residents is busy working in the field, taking turns digging bone-dry farmland to create semi-circular ponds in which to bury grass seeds.

Most of the residents were inspired by an educational film shown by LEAD Foundation officials when they visited the village three years ago.

John Munye remembers it well as he methodically drags patches of sun-fried soil to bury dry grass seeds.

“The film taught me that you can do something to fight drought. You can dig the land to create water basins which we fill with grass seeds to help the field recover,” he told Anadolu Agency.

The 45-year-old father of six is among many farmers in the impoverished village who have discovered new techniques to fight drought and desertification.

Recurring drought spells

Across Engaruka, fields have repeatedly fallen victim to unending drought spells and desertification-- a direct consequence of climate change.

But through the film, more people are enlightened to adapt to the situation.

As darkness falls, residents huddle under a tree and cram themselves around a giant cinema projector to watch the film about taming drought.

Across this village nestled on barren dry land in the Maasai Steppe, hardly anyone has a TV set.

Mlimbo and her colleagues brought a small mobile cinema with her to teach villagers about soil conservation.

“We are showing this film to educate these villagers and equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge to fight drought and desertification, which affects their everyday life,” Mlimbo said.

She said the film explains how to protect the land from drought.

“People have cut down many trees in recent years. The land has become barren and harvests got worst. Now we want to show them how to reclaim that moisture so that their yields increase,” she added.

Film to the rescue

In Engaruka, every resident has become familiar with drought. Through the film, local villagers have learned that if given the chance, even small shrubs can grow into big trees.

According to Mlimbo, the re-greening measure has had an impact on the local weather and has attracted rainfall once again

“These basins are necessary to provide badly needed moisture that helps farmers increase their crop yields,” she said.

Engaruka has lately seen less precipitation than in previous years, and that’s why locals have mobilized themselves to dig rain basins.

For each basin dug, the charity ---pays labor charges equivalent of 1.50 euros ($1.57) for each resident.

Dina Hosea, a local farmer in Engaruka, has found interest in digging the trenches. She digs five of them a day.

“I am happy that we make money digging these ponds. When the grass grows in them, it will help both our cattle and us. It will reduce the burden of carrying grass fodder from far away,” she told Anadolu Agency.

Mlimbo said rainwater which normally evaporates in the dry soil is now collected in the basin and takes some time to seep into the soil, allowing vegetation to grow inside and around the basin

“This initiative is gaining popularity. Strategy like this has an impact in slowing global desertification and the people of Engaruka are doing just that,” she said.

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