Sustainable land management technologies

Small-scale farmers in arid African countries are learning new techniques to help them adapt to climate change.

Article, 20 June 2011

Small-scale farmers in arid African countries are learning new techniques to help them adapt to climate change. Stone Lines and Fanya Juu are two sustainable land management technologies that have a proven track record in Africa. Watch these films to find out more.

Film 1 (of 2): Stone Lines

Stone lines or ("bunds") slow down runoff and increase water infiltration to improve production in semi-arid areas. At the same time, sediment is captured behind these semi-permeable barriers. Stone lines were originally a traditional technique in the Sahel, but have been improved by careful construction, and through aligning them onto the contours of the land.

A perennial grass (Andropogon guyanus) is sometimes planted to supplement the lines where stone is scarce. Stone lines are suited to low slopes, high runoff and hand labour. This technique is readily adopted by resource-poor farmers and can lead to a harvest even in years with low and erratic rainfall. Wide and deep planting pits (called 'zai' in Burkina Faso; 'tassa' in Niger) are often used in combination, acting as microcatchments within the field.

Further details:

Film 2 (of 2): Fanya Juu Terraces

'Fanya juu' (meaning "throw the soil up" in Kiswahili) terraces are the most popular and successful cross-slope barrier measures used in Kenya's small scale farming sector. Contour earth bunds are constructed by throwing soil upwards from trenches immediately below them. This design leads to the gradual formation of terraces with a level or slightly forward sloping bed.

This is a very versatile technology - ideally suited to smallholder farms, especially in sub-humid areas where the land is sloping and erosion poses a threat. Fodder grasses may be planted on the bunds and fed to livestock. In the dry areas, water harvesting from roads into the trenches allows production of bananas and fruits. This is a proven and effective adaptation technology in the highlands of East Africa and beyond. 

Further details:

  • Critchley W (2010) More People More Trees. PA Publications
  • Hudson (1987) Soil and Water Conservation in Semi-Arid Areas. Soils Bulletin 57. FAO
  • Thomas (1997) Soil and Water Conservation Manual for Kenya. Ministry of Agriculture. Government of Kenya
  • WOCAT (2007) Where the Land is Greener. CDE. FAO. UNEP