Zai pits could be a game changer for Karamoja

Zai Pit Farming
Zai pit farming is a traditional dry-land soil restoration technique that originated in Mali. Courtesy Photo.

A new project advocating for basic water harvesting and irrigation techniques is already making a difference in Karamoja region. Studies have indicated that climate change is set to make Karamoja much drier, threatening the region’s subsistence farming.

Government and some donors have tried to invest in technologies like valley dams, water tanks and some places solar-powered water pumps in an effort to help the region adapt to climate change. Some have worked and others haven’t.

A number of agencies are saying the region needs some of the proven indigenous knowledge technologies to make a difference. One of the technologies is the Zai Pit farming system originally practiced in Mali. 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, increase crop yields by up to 500 percent in some cases.

The Zai Pit system is being promoted by World Food Programme (WFP) in Karamoja’s agro-pastoral zone running through much of central to northern Karamoja.

Isaac Oboi, a Senior Livelihoods Officer with World Food Programme says the system has been tried in Napak and Kaabong for agro-forestry. He says it is showing positive result.

He says the Zai pit system only requires the farmer’s efforts and that the dug holes can be used over a period of time provided they are fed with manure. Oboi says the system can be duplicated in other arid or semi-arid parts of the country.

Soil and water conservation experts say there are a number of successful climate change-adaptation projects that have worked elsewhere in the world that can be modified to meet the traditional farming practices in Karamoja and enable people there to adapt to climatic changes.

Dr Festus Luboyera, the Uganda Meteorological Authority Executive Director says such techniques including some our indigenous ones that farmers have since abandoned help to improve livelihoods in areas threatened by climate change.

Dr Luboyera also worked at the UN Frame Work Convention on Climate Change secretariat in Bonn, Germany) overseeing climate change adaption programs. He says the Zai pit can help to reclaim land that become semi-desert.