Reducing Land Degradation
- Improving Water Management
(Page 3)

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By Professor Nils Nykvist

The Kenyan model of soil conservation (continued)

An important part of the ‘Kenyan model of soil conservation’ was to plant fruit trees and other trees that stabilized the soil and reduced the severe shortage of firewood in agricultural areas [18]. The tree planting reduced the need of agricultural residues for cooking and heating, which increased the raw material for humus formation in the soil. Green manuring further contributed to the amount of organic matter in the soil.

The interest in tree planting in Kenya was further increased when Wangari Maathai started the Green Belt Movement in 1977 in the same area where the Kenyan model of soil conservation had started a few years earlier. As the collection of firewood mainly was the work of women, she primarily sought the support of women’s organizations.

Tree planting was the beginning of a strong commitment to economic, social, and environmental issues, for which she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 in recognition of her work for sustainable development, democracy, and peace.

Other water management techniques

Even in the very severely degraded soils in the West African Sahel region, the old colonial methods of soil and water conservation have successfully been replaced by simple, effective techniques acceptable to farmers.

In the Central Plateau of Burkina Faso, farmers and technicians working for non-governmental organizations have started building stone bunds instead of earth bunds along the contours, because much of the manure earlier applied by the farmers was washed away during the first rain [19].

By the new method, manure, sediments, and plant residues are trapped by the stone bunds, and water can trickle through the small gaps between the stones and not cause flooding locally.

Another improvement of the old soil and water conservation technique is to add manure in soil pits, thus concentrating both water and fertilizers to the growing site. The area of rehabilitated land in Burkina Faso is 200,000 to 300,000 hectares [20].

By this improvement of soil conservation methods, the average millet and sorghum yields have increased by about 50–60% since the mid-1980s [19]. In addition to the increases in yields, the farmers point out that the trees grow much better and that the water levels in the wells located within or immediately downstream are higher in areas with stone bunds than in those without [19, 20].

Another example of good land husbandry is on loess soils in China, where the overuse of land has led to large desert areas formed due to water erosion (Fig. 27). A photo about ten kilometers away shows how good land use can turn a desert into fertile farmland, in this case with money from a Food for Work project (Fig. 28).
Figure 27. An area with loess soil in the Shaanxi region of China that has been turned into a desert, due to land use that is too intensive for the carrying capacity of the land.

Figure 28. An example of good land use photographed some 10 kilometres from the area shown in Figure 27.

See the references for this article.

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