By World Vision
Sometimes innovative thinking means using traditions that work well already in Africa. The Zai technique is an example.
Zai is a traditional African planting technique used in Burkina Faso, which helps revitalize the soil in dry climates.
To do it, farmers dig small, shallow pits, then fill them with a small amount of organic fertilising material like animal dung. At the bottom of the pits farmers place about two handfuls of organic material, such as animal dung or crop residues. Pearl millet or sorghum seeds are planted in these pits as soon as the rainfall starts.
The holes ensure that the precious water and fertiliser stay near the plant where they’re needed, and don’t get spread throughout the field.
The poorly available organic matter is placed at the bottom of the pit and not spread over the whole field.
The organic material used attracts termites, which play a crucial role as they dig channels in the soil and by doing so improve its “architecture”. The termites also digest the organic material, making nutrients more easily available to the crops planted or sown in the pits.
The result is higher yields of grain.
The zai pits also serve to collect and concentrate water at the plant. This reduces the risk of water stress in a region of low and erratic rainfall.
Zai therefore combines water and nutrient management into a technology that requires little external inputs and is financially accessible to and manageable by farmers.
Though labor intensive, the pits are dug during the off-season when farmers do
not engage in other field activities, so labor time is less of a constraint.
Zai offers a good potential to both increase the livelihood of the rural population in the Sahel and, at the same time, combat desertification.
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