Home | TheWaterBlog

TheWaterBlog: If you want to share unique images and observations in this section, or would like to know about syndicating these posts, send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!

 

posted by Ruben Borge
January 28, 2013

The Usambara Cooperative Union (UCU) in Tanzania is proud of their fair trade certified organic coffee. For more than forty years, returns from this crop allowed farmers to pay the bills of their children’s education. It has always been cultivated without chemical fertilizers or pesticides, but also without any fertilization.  After four decades of continued nutrient extraction, the soils are exhausted. Production has dropped by 75% in the last ten years. The 2800 members of the Union are also experiencing a decrease in quality and price, and also increased incidence of plagues and diseases.

With the assistance of Agriterra, UCU got access to training. In November 2012, a small group of 21 UCU farmers was pre-selected to pioneer  a revolutionary composting technology at their farms and later train their fellows. The  technology has proven successful for more than 3 decades in the fields of South America.

 The UCU farmers cannot afford commercial inputs for agriculture. This  low-input requirement drives the project to use  local , lowest-cost resources and to reuse all types of farm waste.

altThe aim of the project is to restore the basic functions of natural soils. The approach adopted starts by re-mineralization of the soils and plants. Re-mineralization increments organic matter due to more crop rests and green manures. Organic matter enhances microbiological activity, leading to regeneration of the natural soil functions, i.e.  (1) nutrient retention and (2) water retention, drainage and life supporting system at various levels.

The proximity of volcanic soils from Kilimanjaro gave the opportunity to use the best rock dust to re-mineralize the soils. Also farmers tried the local rock dust at the local quarry.

The easiest way to apply rock dust is to cover the soil with a fine layer (1-2ton/ha).  Rain brings the minerals to the roots. Rock dust releases its nutrients slowly, and the benefits are spread over several years. Soil organisms will turn the minerals into plant-available nutrients through a process that takes 1-4 years. But UCU farmers can’t wait that long. Incorporating rock dust to the compost shows promising results in improving soil fertility while little (and only local) resources are used. Beneficial microorganisms in a compost turn rock dust into available plant nutrients, in only thirty days. Still, nutrient absorption through the roots can be slower than farmers would like.

altUCU farmers were trained to mount low tech bio-digesters, enriched with rock dust to make foliar fertilizers at a cost that everyone can afford. Spraying bio- fertilizers to plant leaves produces shortest term returns to the farmers.  

It is well known that microbiology is many times more effective in turning minerals into nutrients than weathering. With proper training, applied microbiology can be easily and safely used by farmers. For centuries,  it has been mastered by farmers to make cheese, bread, wine or compost, among other products.

American farmers carried out tests on several crops including corn, potato, paprika, coffee, cotton. Also, fruit trees like avocado or mango have been grown in re-mineralized soils with using rock dust and microbiological processes.  The results shows increase in production and quality; decrease in attacks from insects and diseases and a severe reduction of production costs.

These farmer experiences show how they can produce organic and increase net profit  by utilising low inputs (even competing with conventional production systems) and make their land more fertile each year. The self-supply for safe agricultural inputs is a powerful tool that can ensure income of many and help build better land for their children.

Related:
Video: Remineralization in Rural Brazil 
Video: Rockdust and Biochar as a Strategy for Carbon Sequestration 
Article: Remineralise Now

 

  • The Power of Dew

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen January 21, 2013Even as surface water is overcommitted and even new groundwater resources get scarce, one major frontier of water remains untapped: water from the atmosphere or, to be more poetic, dew.Dew is formed when the temperature of air with a certain moisture level cools below a certain temperature. The air becomes too cold to carry all this moisture and dew ...

    Read more

  • Managing Mega Irrigation

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen January 15, 2013 It is the world’s largest irrigation system, also called ‘the Indus Food Machine’-  14 Million hectares of irrigated land in Pakistan, distributed over more than 40 interconnected canals commands.  This mega-system produces, among others (in 2012), 9 million tons of rice (including the famous ‘basmati’ variety), 23 millions tons of whea...

    Read more

  • The Origin of Measuring Time

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen December 31, 2012Several sociologists such as Johan Goudsbloem have chronicled the fascinating story of time – how uniform systems of measuring time developed even in the unconnected world of the past– with hours being equally long all over the world, minutes starting at the same time and calendars synchronized. Trade and international travel were major driver...

    Read more

  • Good Neighbours

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen December 24, 2012The coming year will be the International Year of Water Cooperation. While there has been much debate on coming ‘water wars’ and there are sordid examples of international conflicts,  there is a much larger amount of cooperation fortunately  – especially at local level where people know each other and are friends, neighbours and fellow hu...

    Read more

  • Mekong: A River, its people and Big Dams

    posted by Michael Victor, CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. document.getElementById('cloak75c4c9454350f290efad29948d7b82d2').innerHTML = ''; var prefix = 'ma' + 'il' + 'to'; var path = 'hr' + 'ef' + '='; var addy75c4c9454350f290efad29948d7b82d2 = 'm.victor' + '...

    Read more

  • Controlling the micro-environment

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen December 13, 2012Whereas pressurized irrigation systems- such as drip and sprinklers- are widely promoted to save water, their largest benefit may lie not in the water saving, but in the higher production they make possible. While this is not new (the so-called Comprehensive Assessment estimated already that micro-irrigation systems achieve 5-56% higher yield), it o...

    Read more

  • A Shuimu, or How A River Came About

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen December 03, 2012In the Jinci temple near Taiyuan (China), amid an amazing variety of historical and spiritual buildings and millennia old trees there is the home of the serene River Goddess – or Shuimu.  This small place of worship dates back to 1563. Its story is one of the every-day miracle of the kind-hearted.A girl was betrothed to a man who was weak and inv...

    Read more

  • Eye on the Nile

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen November 28, 2012Early 2011, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia surprised everybody by announcing the construction of the Millennium Dam (subsequently renamed the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile) not far from the border with Sudan – at a location identified in the past as ‘the Border Dam’.The timing of the announcement (as so many other mo...

    Read more

  • Cold weather irrigation

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen November 22, 2012With demand for fruit and vegetables increasing all over China, greenhouses have made an appearance in more unlikely, cold weather areas such as Lishi county in the mountain areas of Shanxi. The greenhouses in Lishi resemble the semi-arched structures common in other parts of the Province - but with several modifications are made. To deal with the c...

    Read more

  • Prosopis: The Green Scourge

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen, Abraham Mehari Haile, Abebe Demissie and Francesco Sambalino November 12, 2012It has turned large hot dry plains green in the last thirty years – but still it is a major scourge that goes largely unattended: mesquite or under its official botanical name prosopis juliflora. In the last thirty years this hardy well rooted shrub made its way from Latin America to al...

    Read more