Script 44.9


If you plant your crops on sloping land, losing soil might be a problem for you. Perhaps you have tried different ways to save your soil.

Farmers at a co-operative in Guatemala have found a way to conserve soil where they plant maize. Their method stops soil from washing away down the hillsides, and it improves the quality of the soil. It is a good alternative to burning corn stalks after the harvest. And, as an added benefit, the farmers discovered that this method also helps control white grubs.

If you farm on a hillside, this method may help you prevent soil erosion on your land. Here’s how it works.

What you will be doing is digging a series of ditches up the side of the hill. Running alongside each ditch there will be a barrier of soil.

Together the ditch and the barrier prevent rainwater and soil from washing down the hillside.

After the maize harvest, mark the contours on your land with stakes.

Cut down the maize stalks and place them in rows along the contour that you have marked with the stakes. Pile them up to make a barrier that is as high as your knee (half a metre high).

Now, dig a ditch on the uphill side of the row of stalks. The ditch should be 30 cm deep and 30 cm wide. Thirty centimetres is the about distance between your elbow and your hand. The ditch should run right along beside the row of stalks — that is, parallel to the row of stalks.

Put the soil you dig from the ditch on top of the piled-up maize stalks.

Now you have a long ditch running along the contour of your land.

Below that, running alongside it, is a long, narrow pile of maize stalks and soil. The maize and soil piled together make a barrier. Continue this process of digging a ditch and piling maize stalks and soil beside it, for all the contours across your field.

You can also plant some grass, shrubs, or trees on the downhill side of the pile of maize stalks.

This will stabilize the barrier even more. When the next rains come, the ditch will fill with soil washed down the hill by the rain. But the soil will not go any further than the ditch.

The ditches and the barrier of maize stalks will prevent the soil from being washed all the way down the hill.

At the end of the next growing season, start over again. The ditches you dug last season will now be filled with soil.

After the harvest, cut the maize stalks and pile them up again to make a barrier that is as high as your knee. But this time, put the stalks on top of last season’s ditch which is now filled with soil. Then dig a new ditch on the uphill side of this pile of stalks and put soil over the stalks. Do this again and again, season after season. What you are doing is making little terraces all the way up the hill.

Members of the farmers’ co-operative in Guatemala use this method because they can see it saves soil in their fields. It saves soil because it halts the flow of soil down the hill. Also, as the maize stalks rot, they add organic matter to the soil. Organic matter makes the soil better for crops.

White grub control

Another good thing that the farmers noticed about this technique is that it helps control white grubs (Phyllophaga spp.) which are a big problem in Guatemala. Perhaps they’re a problem where you live, too. The grubs feed on the maize stalks in the field. By moving the stalks, you move their food source. The insects will follow their food and migrate to the piled-up stalks.

They will lay their eggs there. And they will attack the stalks piled up in the row instead of the crops. Next year sprinkle a bit of lime or ashes over the maize stalks to kill the grubs before seeding.

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  • This script is based on an interview with Eugenio Jos‚ Ixol Mus, a farmer in Guatemala. It was written by Jennifer Pittet, Managing Editor, Developing Countries Farm Radio Network, and was originally published  as “Save soil on sloping fields” in Package 28, script 12.