Script 64.6

Notes to broadcasters

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One of the greatest needs of villagers in semi-arid and arid areas is to overcome the problem of reduced or irregular rainfall, and drought. In times of drought harvests are poor, and food becomes scarce. There is a shortage of basic commodities in the region, and people often have to leave their homes. Is there anything that farmers can do to bring water back to their land?

Yes. Farmers can use water harvesting techniques to capture and hold water for crops. Water harvesting helps farmers combat drought. It makes water available for emergencies. And farmers harvesting water, individually or in joint schemes, play an important role in raising the water table and combating the long term process of desertification.

This script describes some techniques used by a small-scale farmer, Mr. Phiri, in Zimbabwe. Mr. Phiri uses sand traps, infiltration pits, and small underground tanks to catch and hold water on his land. These are simple methods that can be used by farmers in your audience to collect water for their crops.

Mr. Phiri tells his story in his own words. To speak the part of Mr. Phiri, choose someone who can present in an authentic farmer’s voice. You may want to broadcast short segments of this program at different times, or separate the segments with music or other programming. You may decide to create a series about different water harvesting techniques used in your region. If so, remember to include stories about farmers working in a group to manage watersheds, in addition to individual experiences.

Further program ideas about water harvesting:

  • Produce a series about ways that local farmers use to harvest rainwater, such as the use of zai or tassa holes, half-moons, other microcatchments, and runoff farming.
  • Harvesting rainwater for use in the home. A ready-made radio program called “Long-term planning in Zimbabwe: Farmers choose crops to prepare against drought” (5’34”) is available for download from Radio Bridge Overseas, E-mail:, URL:



(can be played by the program host)
Mr. Phiri
: Farmer (Name is pronounced


: Many of you listening to our show today have soil that is hard and dry. Many of you are trying to farm with very little water – especially these days, when there is less and less rain.

Today, we’re going to hear from a fellow farmer – Mr. Phiri – about how he holds rainwater on his land, using infiltration pits. Mr. Phiri is a real farmer, and this is his true story. He is played by [name of actor/volunteer]. Mr. Phiri lives in Zimbabwe, but his methods can be used here too. The pits he uses cost nothing to build. Anyone who can dig a hole can make one.

Here’s Mr. Phiri now.

Mr. Phiri:
Greetings to all the farmers. I’m here to tell you about how I hold rainwater on my land. What I do is to dig many large pits on my land, within my contour ridges. These I always call infiltration pits.

When it rains, the rain falls into these pits. Even when the rain stops falling, the water remains here, in my field – nourishing my crops and also my soil.

: When farmers from other districts heard of Mr. Phiri’s success, many came to visit him. He took them to see the infiltration pits, and showed them the measurements – four metres long, one metre wide, two metres deep.

Mr. Phiri:
One day one of my visitors began to call the pits, Phiri Pits, to honour me. It is an easier name to say than infiltration pits, surely.

Mr. Phiri has developed other ways to harvest water too. For example, he digs and uses underground tanks.

Mr. Phiri:
My underground tanks are just large pits. I dig a large pit. Then I fill this pit with stones. I put a big stone here, another big one there, and then another comes on top.

When you look at Mr. Phiri’s underground tanks, you can see that the spaces between the stones allow a lot of water to fill in between them. Mr. Phiri puts a breather pipe in the pit, so that when the water comes in, the air goes out.

Mr. Phiri
: So this large pit is really a tank. I call it a tank for the poor man. I don’t enjoy it when a farmer says he can’t build a tank because he has no resources. It’s not true! I say, “No! Just build! Work with these common gifts! You were just given this Earth by God. Just open the earth up, and allow the water to go in.”

MUSICAL BREAK (5 seconds).

: Since Mr. Phiri has been digging infiltration pits – he always has plenty of water.

Mr. Phiri:
With these methods, I never run out of water. When there is a drought, I invite all my neighbours to come here for water. I think with this idea, farmers, if we all really could adopt it, it would help us a lot.

You know when you drive through a town and you come across some big humps in the road? Those humps say to the driver, “Reduce your speed!” So that is what my pits say to my harvested run-off water: “Reduce your speed!”


Mr. Phiri
: I plant water as I plant crops. So my farm is not just a grain plantation. It is really a water plantation. Planting water in my soil keeps it alive.

Our farmer friend, Mr. Phiri, has shown us today that when we use infiltration pits, water will seep into the soil. Other farmers who use his methods have become successful. They too are harvesting water for their crops, and for their fruit trees. Even their cows are very strong, because now there is water in the soil.

– END –


Mr. Phiri is the Founding Director of the Zvishavane Water Project, the first indigenous non-government organization in Zimbabwe. The Project promotes soil and water conservation techniques among farmers in Zimbabwe, and generally promotes self reliance among rural people. For more information about Mr. Phiri’s water harvesting techniques, contact: Zvishavane Water Project, PO Box 118, Zvishavane, Zimbabwe.

This script is adapted from sections of the book ‘The water harvester: Episodes from the inspired life of Zephaniah Phiri’ by Mary Witoshynsky (2000), and is based on recorded interviews with Mr. Phiri at his farm in Zimbabwe. The book is available from Weaver Press, Box A1922, Harare, Zimbabwe. E-mail: from the African Book Collective, The Jam Factory, 27 Park End Street, Oxford 0X1 1HU, Fax: 01865.793298. E-mail: