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Script 91.5

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The events on which the following mini-drama is based took place in the village of Chamono in Rumphi District, in northern Malawi. The winter garden affected was farmed by Miss Mponela. The character Jeremiah honours Jeremiah Phiri of Nkhata Bay district. Mr. Phiri invented an instrument called a lino frame. The lino-frame combines the functions of two instruments for measuring areas of equal heights, namely the A-frame and the line level. These two pieces of equipment are described in the script.

Chamono village has two types of lands – steep hillside farmland and valley land. The valley has fertile soils which were eroded and washed down from the steep, unprotected uplands. Because of heavy run-off from the upland, this soil is depleted of nutrients. Local farmers harvest nothing from the uplands, and survive from winter cropping in the valley.

This script is a mini-drama based on actual interviews with farmers. You could use this script as inspiration to research and write a script on a similar topic in your area. Or you might choose to produce this script on your station, using voice actors to represent the speakers. If so, please make sure to tell your audience at the beginning of the program that the voices are those of actors, not the original people involved in the interviews.

Script

Characters

Jeremiah: A progressive farmer who protects his gardens from erosion
James: In-law of Jeremiah (brother to Jeremiah’s wife) who does not protect his garden from erosion
Chief: Like James, he does not follow soil conservation practices
Grace: Jeremiah’s wife and sister to James

Narrator:
How we manage our gardens and fields has a big impact in both the short term and the long term. Soil conservation is often neglected, even though our soils are slowly losing the valuable topsoil which holds most of the soil nutrients. In the long run, this loss of soil and soil nutrients results in big problems – flooding, gullies, and soil degradation. But this problem can be resolved by making marker ridges. After that, all that is needed is simply maintenance of the structures. Today, therefore, we are presenting the play “Do not bite the finger that feeds you.”

FX:
Tins banging together. Sound of distant thunder.

Sound of watering using a watering can. Tins banging stops under James.
James:
(Off mic) Jeremiah, my in-law, why are you watering mature cabbage instead of just harvesting and selling it?

Jeremiah:
Oh, James my in-law, you are right. It is mature. But I want to harvest my cabbage without difficulties tomorrow.

James:
Have you already found a market?

Jeremiah:
Yes. I am going to deliver to the boarding school.

James:
Let me help you water so that we can go home together.…

Jeremiah:
Thanks.

Sound of tins and drawing of water

James:
Jeremiah, why does the winter maize grow so much better than the upland maize in this village?

Jeremiah:
I am happy that you noticed that…. It’s because the soils in the hillside gardens are not protected. So the fertile upland soils are washed into the valley.

James:
So you mean in the valley we use the fertile soil from the upland?

Jeremiah:
Obviously yes! The eroded soils come from upland gardens which are not protected. But not from my upland garden, I hope you understand.

James:
What protection are you talking about?

Jeremiah:
Did you make marker ridges in your upland garden?

James:
Why waste time making contour ridges? You, Jeremiah, make ridges on which you plant vetiver to hold the soil as if you had plenty of land.

Jeremiah:
Yes, I chose vetiver. There are many crops that hold the soil in place. You just need to avoid planting crops that have to be dug up for harvest. It’s a good idea to plant leguminous plants like beans or agro-forestry shrubs like tephrosia or gliricidia on these ridges.

James:
Why not plant cassava and sweet potatoes on the marker ridge?

Jeremiah:
Like I said, you need to avoid planting crops that must be dug up to harvest. Marker ridges need to be permanent. The ridges connect all the places of the same height, and trap water in the fields.

James:
So that’s the reason you use that piece of equipment that looks like a big letter A – to make sure that you trap water in the soil?

Jeremiah:
Yes, that helps me build marker ridges to trap water. The piece of equipment is called an A-frame.

Sound of watering cans being put down

James:
Let’s go home; my sister Grace needs you. You spend a lot of time in the garden.

Jeremiah:
You know I am employed in farming. For me, it is a serious business.

James:
I know. But with you it is too much! You are always busy making marker ridges or digging water harvesting pits or making manure … You never take a rest.

Jeremiah:
As a person employed in farming, every day I do a piece of work in my garden that adds to the food and cash in my house.

FX:
Thunder

James:
The rains will come soon. I hear thunder a lot these days. In fact, the rains have already started coming up north.

Jeremiah:
Indeed it looks like it will rain any day.

James:
Jeremiah … This garden of yours always reminds me of something.

Jeremiah:
What?

James:
Look at your garden’s soil … Compare it to your neighbours’ gardens. Why is it that the soil in your garden is darker than that of your neighbours?

Jeremiah:
I apply manure every year and bury lots of organic residues in the soil.

James:
Is that the reason you harvest more than your neighbours – even though they apply fertilizer just like you?

Jeremiah:
Look, in my garden I don’t lose any nutrients. My marker ridges go across the slope, connecting places of equal height. They trap all the water that falls and keep it in the garden.

James:
Yeah, it makes sense … but so much labour – hey! You talk like you want to convince me. Do you have evidence that it works?

Jeremiah:
I am not trying to convince anyone. I am just giving you facts and answers to your questions. It’s up to you what you decide to do.

James:
So you mean you do not lose fertile soil to the valley as we do?

Jeremiah:
That’s true.
James:
(Thinking about it) Uummmh … marker ridges … they’re a very big job. (Pause as he thinks more) I can’t make them. Good night, my in-law.

Jeremiah:
Good night. But you should know that you only have to make marker ridges once. And they can last for some time. After a number of years, they can simply be rebuilt

James:
(Off mic) Greet my sister and nephew.

Scene transition

Thunderstorm with rain

Grace:
It’s been a long time since the rains started. My husband Jeremiah … this year the onset rains are heavy.

Jeremiah:
Yes, very heavy indeed, my wife.

Grace:
Look at the dirty water passing by, flooding down those streets.

Jeremiah:
When you see dirty water coming from your garden, you should be worried.

Grace:
Worried why?

Jeremiah:
If water is dirty, it means it has carried away our soils and the nutrients which our plants need.

Grace:
(Understanding) Okay! So you mean this water is running off unprotected fields?

Jeremiah:
Yes. Do you see any marker ridges in those fields? This water in the streets is the water that fills the rivers and cause flooding and siltation.

The rains lessen

Grace:
Oh, finally it is stopping. It’s not as heavy as it was.

The rains stop.

James approaches singing. Sound of a small stream of water splashing.

Grace:
Brother James, where are you going so soon after the rains have stopped? Do you want to be carried away by the water in the streets?

James:
(Laughs) Can these small street streams carry you away?

Grace:
Don’t you know that it is this water that fills the river and causes floods?

James:
I know, sister, but I have a customer who wants to buy fresh maize. We were interrupted by the rain. So I want to go and sell it to him now.

Grace:
Ok, just take care.

Scene transition

James:
(Banging a hoe and shouting off mic) People who have winter gardens come and see. Our crops are gone!

Jeremiah:
Isn’t that your brother in the garden shouting?

Grace:
Yes, that’s him indeed. Let’s go out to listen.

FX:
Opening and closing of the door

James:
(Loud and clear and approaching)People who have winter gardens … I say come and see. Our crops are gone!

Grace:
Brother James! James …

James:
Yes, sister Mrs. Jeremiah. I am finished. Hey, I have never seen this in my whole life. My crops are gone.…

Jeremiah:
Your crops have gone where?

James:
What I have seen today I have never seen in my entire life!

Jeremiah:
Where have the crops gone?

Chief:
(Approaching) Why are you making so much noise this afternoon, James?

James:
Chief, your winter maize and mine are both eroded and gone …

Chief:
What? … My garden … no, you are lying!

James:
(Still shouting) Go and see. As I am speaking, there is water, tree branches and sand all over our winter gardens.

Chief:
No, that can’t be true …

James:
(Does not respond but shouts) What am I going to eat, my God? With nothing from my rain fed garden … I thought I would survive from my winter garden’s good crop.

Chief:
I cannot believe this … let’s go and see.

Scene transition

Chief:
Hey! Hey! What have we done, our forefathers?

Jeremiah:
What has this to do with your forefathers?

Chief:
But why are our upland gardens eroded and yours are not eroded, Jeremiah? Here in the valley you made a big ridge where you planted elephant grass. And now your winter garden is safe. Our crops were carried away but yours were just flooded, not washed away. At least you will get something from them.

Jeremiah:
How many times have I told you that we need to stop runoff water from our upland garden by making marker ridges?

Chief:
Many times. And some people in the village made them too.

Jeremiah:
I always try to protect my gardens from such disasters. But very few people listened and made marker ridges. They know, they heard the good advice, but they did not make them.

Chief:
Why are the few of you who protect your soils not safeguarding us all?

Jeremiah:
How many people protected their gardens? Just a few. Can protecting five gardens save one hundred gardens?

Chief:
I think you are right; they cannot affect that large an area.

Jeremiah:
Yes, you must convince your people to protect their gardens.

Chief:
Okay, let’s talk about the problem at hand. Is it possible to protect the uplands from erosion while at the same time protecting our gold mine valley lands from these disasters?

Jeremiah:
Yes. If we address the cause.

Chief:
What is the cause?

Jeremiah:
Both problems have one cause…. We need to stop the water that falls on the upland from flowing rapidly down the slope as runoff water. Instead, it should soak into the upland soil. The only water that should be allowed to flow downhill is water in the springs.

Chief:
How can we do that?

Jeremiah:
Mobilize the whole village to do what I did in my garden. I made marker ridges and planted soil-holding plants on them. That’s all.

Chief:
You should remind the villagers of those skills you taught them before. Come to my court tomorrow morning. I will mobilize them today. Let’s fix this situation before it’s beyond repair.
Scene transition

FX:
Cutting of trees for poles

Jeremiah:
Have you all agreed to make marker ridges?

Crowd:
Yes.

James:
In-law Jeremiah, just tell us how to make them. Don’t be pompous.

Jeremiah:
James, silence please…. We are going to use these two trees to make a piece of equipment that we call a line level.

Chief:
What is this line level used for?

Jeremiah:
We use it for measuring places on a slope that are at the same height. That way, we can make sure that the ridges connect land that is at the same height. The ridges allow us to harvest all the rainwater by trapping it.

Chief:
Okay! How do we use the poles?

Jeremiah:
Look at this small glass tube filled with water and with a small space of air, like a small bubble…. We call this an agricultural level.

James:
Where can we buy this agricultural level?

Jeremiah:
Agriculture field assistants can find these for you. But they are commonly found in farm supply shops.

Chief:
I know where the shop is.

Jeremiah:
Okay, we need two poles and a string not more than five metres long. Cut the poles to the height of a person with a hand stretched overhead.

FX:
Cutting of poles

Jeremiah:
Now stand both poles upright. Then mark them at the height of the chin of the person who will be looking at the agricultural level.

Chief:
Why at the chin?

Jeremiah:
Because the person observing needs to easily see the level.

Chief:
Okay, we understand.

Jeremiah:
Put one pole on one side and another pole on the other side, but at a distance of between three and five metres apart. Tie a string of not more than five metres long between the two poles at chin level.

Chief:
How do we use these poles to find out if two places are at the same height?

Jeremiah:
We stretch the string between the two poles, with one person holding each of the poles upright and touching the ground. We hang the agricultural level from the string, attaching it with hooks. The third person in the middle looks at the level. That middle person is the controller.

James:
You mean the middle person is the one who tells the people holding the poles to go upslope or downslope?

Jeremiah:
Yes. When the air bubble in the level is in the middle of the tube between the two lines, then the two poles are at the same height. We put a stick in the ground to mark the position of the back pole and the front one. Then you move along the slope and continue measuring and placing sticks like this.

James:
Isn’t that a slow process? How long will it take to finish?

Jeremiah:
You will get used to it, and the process will move faster. We will divide ourselves into five groups because I have five levels and five people who already know how to do this.

Chief:
Okay, then the work will be easier than I thought.

Jeremiah:
Yes, in these groups you will need to measure and put sticks in the ground to mark the spots which are the same height. And then straighten the markers a bit and make the ridges. Please divide yourselves into groups.

James:
What do you mean when you say “straighten the markers”?

Jeremiah:
After marking the spots with sticks, we look at every three sticks. Then, we move the one in between either upward or downward a little bit, as needed. In other words, you adjust the line a little bit so that it is curved, rather than having sharp angles or corners.

Chief:
That is why your ridges meander and do not have sharp corners?

Jeremiah:
Yes.

James:
But what if you do not have a level? How can you tell which places are the same height?

Jeremiah:
You can use a stone or a weight to tell you the places at the same height.

James:
How?

Jeremiah:
We use what we call an A-frame. We make a capital A-shaped instrument from three poles…. Just make sure that the side poles are of the exact same length. Put a mark in the middle of the cross-pole of the A.

Chief:
Where do you put the weight or stone?

Jeremiah:
You tie a string at the place where the two long poles meet. Then attach a stone to the bottom of the string so that the string touches the middle mark of the A when stretched.

James:
What next?

Jeremiah:
Mark where the string passes the cross-pole. Then turn the A-frame around, and exchange the places of the legs. In other words, the right pole should go where the left pole was before. And the left pole should go where the right one was. Now, mark where the string passes again.

Chief:
So when the string is in between the two marks, then the places are of the same height?

Jeremiah:
Yes, chief. That’s it. When the string is exactly in the middle. Now we are ready to make marker ridges to keep the water in our gardens. Next time, people, I’ll teach you how to reclaim the gullies.

Narrator:
Thanks for listening to our show today. To sum up, if you want to know how to save soil on sloping fields, the best advice is to talk with an agricultural extension worker. He or she can show you how to build the tools to make marker ridges. But if you do not have access to an extension worker, do not despair. You can make the equipment yourself. Try the following methods. Get two poles, an agricultural level and a string. Cut the poles to equal lengths, stand them upright and mark them at chin level. Tie a string at that marked point and hang an agricultural level on the string. Then you are ready to go. If you cannot find a level, tie a stone to the string and let it hang down. It will do the same job for you. To make an A-frame, build a big letter A made from poles of equal length. The poles should be as tall as you with your hand stretched overhead. Put a mark in the middle of the cross-pole of the A. Hang a string from the place where the two side poles meet. When the hanging string passes through the middle mark of the “A”, then the ground beneath the two poles is at the same height.

Thanks for listening to our program today. Please tune in again next week. Goodbye for now.

Acknowledgements

  • Contributed by: Senior Writer Gladson Makowa, the Story Workshop, Malawi, a Farm Radio International broadcasting partner.
  • Reviewed by: John FitzSimons, Associate Professor, School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph, Canada.

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