Script 55.9




The sound of heavy rain can be frightening if you live beside a steep hillside.

It can bring rushing water, lost soil, and ruined crops.

Ato Haile is a farmer who knows how devastating a heavy rain can be.

His crops and home have been damaged several times in floods caused by water rushing downhill.

But now Mr. Haile has found a way to prevent flooding.

Listen closely to hear more.


Ato Haile is a 50-year-old farmer.

He lives in Ethiopia, a country in northeast Africa.

He and nine family members share about one hectare of land.

His main crops are maize, teff and a variety of fruits.

Ato’s farm is at the base of a steep hillside.

Fifteen years ago, there were no trees on the hillside, and very few plants.

In fact, there were not enough green plants to cover the slope.

In heavy rains the soil washed down the steep hillside.

His fields were flooded and his crops were damaged.

His land was covered with silt and stones that washed down the hill.

After every rain Ato worked hard to clear the stones and debris off the fields.

This was heavy work which sometimes seemed to have no end.

Until one day Ato had a very good idea.

He began to place the stones in lines along the contours of the hillside, so that they formed low walls.

He made several of these low stone walls going up the hillside.

The next time it rained, the stone walls slowed the flow of water downhill.

The soil was also trapped behind the stone walls.

After a few more rains the spaces between the stones were filled in with soil — making the wall more stable.

With more stable walls, Ato was able to add more stones, to make the wall taller.

Over time he built the walls higher and wider, and they turned into large steps, or terraces on the side of the hill.

While he was building the terraces, Ato also dedicated a lot of time to planting.

He collected seeds and cuttings from local grasses and shrubs, and he planted them on the slopes of the terraces.

Ato chose local grasses and shrubs which were familiar to him.

He knew that they would grow well in his soil and climate.

The more Ato planted, the more soil and water stayed on his land.

After a few years, the terraces were big enough for trees.

Ato planted fruit trees.


Now, fifteen years later, Ato doesn’t worry about flooding.

The terraces and the trees stop the downhill flow of water and soil.

The soil doesn’t wash away.

The soil stays on the terraces and absorbs the rainwater.

The hillside above Ato’s home now resembles a giant stairway with large, rounded steps.

They slant in the same direction as the hillside, but they are much less steep.

The terraces are wide — each is ten or more steps across.

Some of the terraces are covered with small forests.

And what a variety of trees he has!

Altogether there are 43 different kinds of trees and shrubs, including five fruit trees and one, the gesho tree, with leaves that can be used to make beer.

Ato sells the products of his trees — fruit, leaves and firewood — at the local market.

He keeps a supply of firewood for himself.


If your farm is on or beside a hillside and flooding is a problem, you can try building walls too.

You could work with your neighbours.

Start by planting local grasses.

Grasses grow quickly and prevent the soil from washing away.

For the walls, use stones or other objects that, when placed together, will hold back soil and water.

You might have to experiment with different objects you find.

And remember to plant whenever you can.

The more trees, grasses and shrubs that you plant, the more good soil and water you will have.


Contributed by: Lesley Barry, Freelance Writer, Montreal, Canada.

Reviewed by: Ann Waters-Bayer, Advisor, Indigenous Soil and Water Conservation (ISWC) – Ethiopia Programme.

Ato Haile lives in the Western zone of Tigray Region in the far north of Ethiopia. The landscape is hilly to mountainous. The average annual rainfall of about 850 mm normally falls between June and September, followed by a very long dry season.

Examples of local trees planted on the terraces described in this script are mommona (Acacia senegalensis) and Acacia tortilis.

These trees provide fodder for honeybees, and good wood for farm tools.

Latin names for crops mentioned in this script:

Teff — Eragrostic tef
Gesho tree — Rehaminus perinoides