Script 54.4



You are about to hear the story of a woman who found a way to hold more water in the soil for her crops.

Her name is Azmera Atseba and she is 39 years old.

She farms in Eastern Tigray, a part of Ethiopia in Africa.

She grows mostly cereal crops – teff, wheat, barley and sorghum.

Her farm is one hectare in size.


In the community where Mrs. Azmera Atseba lives, people often left some of their garbage lying around.

This was a problem because flies and other insects would feed on the garbage and then spread disease.

The Home Agent that visited Azmera from time to time recommended that she bury her garbage to prevent this problem.

Azmera wanted a healthy family, so she followed the Home Agent’s advice.

She dug a pit on her land, and used it for garbage disposal.

The pit was one metre wide, one metre long and one metre deep.

So it was quite deep – a person could stand in it up to their waist.

The pit was near her house, on a slight slope, just up the hill from her plot of wheat.

After she dug the pit, she didn’t think much more about it.

But, early in the rainy season, she noticed something interesting.

She noticed that the garbage pit was filling with rainwater.


As time passed the weather got dryer, and water became more and more scarce.

Farmers, including Azmera, saw the crops in their fields drying up and dying from lack of water.

But there was one exception.

The wheat that was growing close to the garbage pit was still strong and healthy.

At the end of the season Azmera harvested more grain from the wheat next to the garbage pit than from anywhere else on the farm.

There was only one explanation.

The wheat near the pit was growing strong because it was getting more water.

And the water was coming from the pit.

The water was moving from the pit, downhill through the soil, to the roots of the crop.


The following year Azmera dug pits all over the land at the beginning of the rainy season.

She dug the pits on a slight slope, just above, but very close to the place where the wheat would be planted.

In other words, she dug the pits on the uphill side of the wheat, so water would move downhill through the soil.

She experimented with the size of the pits – she made them a different size this time.

This time she dug the pits two metres long and one and a half (1 «) metres deep.

She expected a better harvest than ever.

And she was not disappointed.

She harvested more than three quintals (300 kilograms) from one quarter of a hectare – three times the amount she usually harvested!


You might want to dig some of these pits on your farm or garden.

Azmera uses the technique for cereal crops, but you could also use it for fruit trees or forages – crops that have deep roots.

Remember that it is difficult work to dig the pits – you might need some help from family or friends.

The idea is to dig some pits close to your crops.

These pits will hold water for your crops.

It is best to dig the pits just before the rains are expected.

Place the pits just slightly uphill and two or three feet away from the growing crops, so the water can move downhill, through the soil, to the crop roots.



  • Contributed by: Jennifer Pittet, Managing Editor, Developing Countries Farm Radio Network.
  • Reviewed by:  Dr. Ann Waters-Bayer, Advisor, Indigenous Soil and Water Conservation (ISWC) – Ethiopia Programme.

Information Sources

“Farmers’ innovations in land and water management,” Fetien Abay, Mitiku Haile, Ann Waters-Bayer, ILEIA, July 1998, Volume 14, No. 1.
This technique (infiltration pits) functions best in deep clay soils with a low infiltration rate. It is useful under dry climatic conditions with erratic rainfall distribution. In Azmera’s area, rainfall is about 500 mm/year, concentrated in July and August, with very few days where rain actually falls.