The difference made by enthusiasm
Today I had that rare treat of a day in the field with two people of energy and inspiration who are making a positive difference to their local environment.
The background: In 2018 Liana obtained a small grant from Stats4SD to support the community of Yam Makaa in reversing the severe erosion and gullies that are destroying their fields. With the community providing labour and Liana helping with measuring the contours and providing Rhodes grass seeds, 7 farmers terraced their fields. Five check dams were built in the largest gully.
On the night of 23 April there was extremely heavy rain and the next day we got a message that the tops of the dams had been washed away and the terraces destroyed. After a week or two we heard that maybe it was not quite that bad, some terraces had survived and the dams were repairable. Next we heard that through the efforts of Ndanu and Erik and five other labourers two of the dams had been repaired. Now I had the chance to have a look at what had happened as I was visiting N Tanzania for work.
Starting from Ndanu’s house, we walked through fields of maize and sunflower, sorghum and finger millet, beans and groundnuts all soon to be harvested. The high rainfall meant that weeds have been more rampant than usual and some farmers have not kept them under control. But where they have, the positive effect of terracing can be seen even in this first season. Maize plants growing above the fanya juu lines – where water, soil and nutrients have collected – look stronger and have bigger cobs than elsewhere. Farmers planted Rhodes grass on some of the terraces to help stabilise the soil but it is patchy – rain washed away seeds in some places. With the weeds covering everything we will only really see where the perennial grass has grown well during the next season.
Maize growing above and below a fanya juu terrace
There are places where the terraces have been broken down by water. But in each case it appears to be water that has collected into a stream before hitting the field. For example, the school near Ndanu’s house has a large, bare yard. The water ran off that into the field, and the terrace could not hold it. But the good news is that the terraces seem to have been very effective everywhere else. The soil they have helped hold in place is very visible.
Water has cut through the terrace because a stream flowed onto the field from further up (Ndanu).
Sunflower and Rhodes grass grow along a terrace between a field of beans (L) and one of groundnut (R)
Water running along a track starts to flow across a field and starts a new gully (L). How can that be prevented?
The dams in the large gully were damaged and we know (now) there were some construction faults – spillway too shallow, building near a bend in the gully, not tying gabions together well enough. But even so, up to 2m of soil has built up behind the dams. Think of it! 2m in one season, and that 2 metres stretches a long way upstream above the dam. So I was pleased and surprised that the outcome was so much better than the first report.
One of the dams that has been repaired, with soil collected above it (Erik and Ndanu)
The water cut around this dam, perhaps because of the bend in the gully. This is easy to repair but the least important because it is furthest downstream (Ndanu and Erik)
A new side gully that started during the heavy rain of this season. Terraces on the field might have prevented this (Ndanu)
A local innovation – tape from an old video cassette used to scare birds
But something else has happened that is even more positive: the enthusiasm of Ndanu and Erik means that they have been working hard to repair and improve the dams, using what they have observed to do better job. They have more ideas to try. Erik has also been busy planting trees and grass in places where the soil has collected behind dams and already the potential impact is visible. He plans to start a tree nursery so that everyone can get the seedlings.
A row of Moringa seedlings emerging in the floor of the gully, planted to further slow the water flow and collected sediment. Moringa grows quickly, can be taller than goats and cows can reach during the dry season, and produces nutritious leaves (Erik)
The two are inspiring in what they try to do, but the response from some others around has been lukewarm so far. In meetings people agree to work together – and this is a problem that only joint, communal work (weekly government organised) will really fix – but only half the 14 farmers who agreed to terrace fields have done so. Why? There seems to be an explanation for each case – this one lives far away and only comes to plant, that one drinks too much, the next is a very old man who rents out his plots and does not come to the field himself, and so on. My hope is that the positive results being seen already will slowly convince more people to try, and the benefits will eventually grow. That will certainly need the persistence enthusiasm of the few to inspire the many.
A view of the future? Last year, they built a small dam where a track crosses the gully because it was getting too deep for people to pass. Where the soil started to collect above it they planted grass and trees. Just one year later the spot is a small oasis, the scare of the gully hidden by green, lush growth
This is how the crossing place looked in November 2018 when Liana invited together the community meeting.