Z is for Zai pits

Z is for Zai pits

Date: 14 October 2014

The Zai pit technique originated in Mali but was adopted and modified by farmers in Burkina Faso after a particularly bad drought in 1980 which affected over 1 million people. The technique involves digging a series of pits roughly 20-40cm across by 20cm deep during the dry season. Manure is added to the pit and when the first rains arrive the pits are planted with seeds. The pits help to hold some of the surface water which comes during periods of heavy rain. They also help to protect plants and fertility from being washed away and as a result help to increase crop yields – by up to 500% in some cases.

Soil water conservation (SWC) techniques like Zai planting, but also stone bunds (stone walls built along contours to help slow surface water runoff) not only help to increase food yields, but they help farmers to grow plants on otherwise degraded and non-productive land. In Burkina Faso’s Central Plateau, SWC techniques have helped to rehabilitate over 300,000 hectares of land. Simple agroecological techniques such as these can therefore have a powerful impact on improving people’s food sovereignty.

Photo: “Women sowing okra in zai holes”. Credit: abossuet

The A-Z of Food Sovereignty in Africa shows the positive alternatives to corporate-led agriculture. A new letter was posted each day in the lead up to World Food Day arrived on 16 October 2014.

Africa’s small-scale food producers already know how to produce enough food sustainably to feed themselves but the political and economic rules which govern the food system are set against them. These rules are written by and for multinational companies and political elites, in support of a global food system that benefits them rather than the millions of smallholders and family farmers who produce the food and get little in return.