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Script 75.8

Notes to broadcasters

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Desertification is caused by changes in climate and by human activities. People contribute to desertification by overcultivating the soil, by allowing animals to overgraze the land which removes the covering of vegetation, by cutting down or burning trees, and by using improper watering methods which turn cropland salty. Drought sometimes makes soil dry up and crack, or makes the soil problems that already exist even worse.

In parts of Africa, farmers make cracked hardpan soils productive again, by planting grain in small pits. This script describes how to make the pits and why they are effective. These planting pits are known as zay or tassa pits in some local West African languages.

Script

HOST 1:
Today we’re going to talk about a way for farmers to improve soils and get higher crop yields. This is a method that be effective even if you have dry soils with a hard crust.

HOST 2:
That’s right. On today’s program farmers are going to learn how to use planting pits to increase crop yields. Many farmers are already using this method! Today my co-host and I will describe how to make these planting pits. Over to you _______ [insert name of co-host].

HOST 1:
Thanks [insert name of co-host] I think this is a really important technique for farmers with hard, dry soils. To start making these improvements, this is what you’re going to have to do. First, you’re going to have to dig pits all over your field.

HOST 2:
All the pits should be about the same size. Each pit should be 20 centimetres deep and 20 centimetres wide. Dig these pits throughout your field – spaced about a metre (a few feet) apart from each other.

HOST 1:
So now you have dug the pits all around your field. The next thing you are going to do is put some manure, or some leftover crop residues, in each pit.

HOST 2:
Something else farmers need to know is when they should dig these pits.

HOST 1:
Most farmers dig and fill the pits in the dry season so that the manure decomposes before the rainy season. Other farmers dig pits at the end of the rainy season when the soil crust is easier to break. Whichever you choose, you have to dig the pits many weeks before planting, so that the manure in the pits decomposes.

HOST 2:
When the rains come it’s time to plant the seeds. Plant about five seeds in each hole. You will find that the seeds germinate quickly and the plants grow quickly in these pits.

HOST 1:
The plants grow quickly because water soaks easily into the pit and collects there where the plant can use it. Also, the compost or manure in the pit is good fertilizer and attracts termites.

HOST 2:
Termites are important because they improve the soil. They loosen the soil by digging tunnels, and they bring up nutrients from deep down in the soil for the plants.

HOST 1:
Farmers have proven that this method really can make poor soils produce again.

HOST 2:
That’s right. I’ve heard about many farmers’ experiences. In some cases farmers who could not grow any grains at all were able to produce 400 kilograms per hectare. And that’s in a year of low rainfall.

HOST 1:
And in a year of good rainfall, some farmers harvested as much as 1000 kilograms per hectare!

HOST 2:
There is something else you should know about these pits. You can plant tree seeds or seedlings in them too. If you are growing tree seedlings in these pits you’ll find that they are easy to tend and water.

HOST 1:
As we said at the beginning of the show, even if you have hard, dry soils, and you think that it is too difficult to grow anything on your land, this method might give you a second chance and make you think again. I’m _____________[insert name of co-host].

HOST 2:
And I’m _____________[insert name of co-host 2]. Thanks for listening.

Acknowledgements

  • This script was originally published in Farm Radio Network Package 41, Script 1, July 1996, and was reviewed by Camilla Toulmin, Director, International Institute for Environment and Development, London, U.K.

Information Sources

  • Soil and water conservation brings results” in Haramata (Bulletin of the drylands: people, policies, programmes), No. 25, September 1994, published by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), 3 Endsleigh Street, London WC1H 0DD, U.K.
  • Echo Development Notes, Issue 44, April 1994, 17430 Durrance Road, North Fort Myers, Florida, 33917 2200, U.S.A.