Notes to broadcasters
Farmers can reduce the costs of irrigation by finding ways to hold rainwater in their soil and make it more available for crops. Following are six short radio spots that encourage farmers to make the most of the rainfall they get, and to experiment with water harvesting techniques that reduce the speed of water flow and trap water on the land. These spots can be separated by musical interludes, and used together in a series; or they can stand alone and be played separately, at different times of the day, week or month.
Farmers — do you need more water for your crops? If you want to capture more water, you will have to find ways to prevent water escaping from your land. And the first tools you’ll need are your powers of observation. The more you know about your soil and water, the more water you can store in the soil. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- How does water come on to my land?
- Where does the water flow to?
- Does the water flow to places where my crops can use it?
If water is not flowing to the places you need it, you will want to find ways to divert it. Whatever method you use, remember that the final goal is to make sure that runoff water has a chance to collect and seep into your soil.
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If you want to capture and collect water, you will have to find ways to prevent water from escaping from your land. To do this you need to:
- stop water from running off the surface of the soil
- slow water down so it cannot carry soil away.
You can stop or slow water flow by using barriers. By barriers, I mean structures such as contour ridges and ditches, grass strips, and terracing. All of these barriers slow the flow of water as it moves downhill, giving it time to seep into the soil.
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One of the ways that farmers lose water from soil is through evaporation. Water from the soil evaporates into the air before it has a chance to seep into the soil. But if you keep your soil covered, this can’t happen. You can keep the soil covered with living plants, or with a layer of mulch.
Both mulch and live vegetation trap water that falls onto the soil, and hold it so it has time to be absorbed. The vegetation or mulch slows the flow of water, and the water seeps slowly into the soil.
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What is all this talk about planting pits? Today, farmers in many parts of Africa use planting pits. And they have good success with this technique. But what exactly is a planting pit?
There are different kinds of pits and farmers use them in different ways. Most farmers dig pits in their fields, in the dry season. They fill them with manure or compost. When the rains come, farmers plant their grains in the pits. They say that crops grow more quickly in these pits. This is because water soaks easily into the pit, and collects there where the plant can use it. Also, the compost or manure in the pit fertilizes the plant. In other words, planting pits concentrate water and nutrients in the very place that your crops need them.
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Sometimes, when it rains, so much water falls in such a short time that it can’t all sink into the ground right away. And it flows away. Some farmers in dry regions use a special method to hold rainwater on their land.
They grow row crops like maize, sorghum, or sweet potatoes, on ridges. When it rains, water collects in the furrows between the ridges. To make sure the water stays between the furrows, the farmers make small barriers called “cross-ridges” across each furrow. They make the cross-ridges at regular distances along the furrow. If you live in a dry area, cross-ridges can help you save water and soil. In places where there isn’t much rainfall, and where land is flat or nearly flat, this method can improve crop yields.
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One way to make the most of the rainfall that you get is to plant crops that need less water. For example, consider the crops that help you during hard times. These are the crops that survive and thrive even in a drought, when other crops fail. In other words, choose crops that don’t need extra water or fertilizer to grow well.
Here’s an example. Some farmers grow small grains — such as millet or sorghum — instead of maize. This is because millet and sorghum give good yields, even with very little rain. There are other grains, and also root crops and vegetables, that we’ve grown for generations that provide us with food — even during a drought. Choosing traditional crops and local varieties that can survive in dry weather and poor soils is one way to make the most of the rainfall we receive.
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- Contributed by Jennifer Pittet, Thornbury, Canada.
- Reviewed by Chris Reij, International Cooperation Center, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
- Carter, Mike. “How soil erosion happens.” Footsteps. June 1993: No. 15.
- Farmer Innovators: Case Studies and Analysis. United Nations Development Programme.
- Morrow, Rosemary. “The work and duties of water.” Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture. East Roseville: Kangaroo Press, 1993.
- Shumba, Owen. “Farmers’ responses to reduce the risks of drought.” ILEIA. Apr. 2001: Vol. 17, No. 1.
- Vukasin, Helen L., et al. Production without destruction. Zimbabwe: Natural Farming Network, 1995.
- Atkins, George. Cross-ridging holds precious rainwater on the land. Toronto: Developing Countries Farm Radio Network, 1997.
- Pittet, Jennifer. Infiltration pits catch water for crops. Toronto: Developing Countries Farm Radio Network, 2000.