Redemptor Sebastian swings back and forth as she shouts to one of her friends to propel her swing further. She lets out a loud laugh before coming to a slow stop. At 10 years, Redemptor who is in second grade, lives in an orphanage in Arusha, Northern Tanzania. Called Canaan, the orphanage is built within a 200-acre farm that is managed by the Archdiocese of Arusha.
Until five years ago, the land on which the orphanage is built was stable. Nothing grew on it but grass, and the Maasai community would graze their cattle there on a regular basis. The Archdiocese of Arusha was not too concerned about the Maasai grazing there, at least not until the land started deteriorating. First, came small gullies resulting from massive soil erosion. Heavy rains would wash away the top soil and with time gullies developed, and became deeper. The Archdiocese’s response to the deterioration was prompt, but the initial engineering solutions were futile and they created more problems, says Dr. Alex Lengeju who works with the Archdiocese of Arusha, and manages the orphanage. The orphanage was now in danger and the Social Welfare Ministry of Tanzania was about to shut the orphanage down.
Fast forward to today, the orphanage is still operating. However, there are several gullies on the farm, and even though they are deeper, “the land is in a better state than it’s been in in four years,” William Msuya an agronomist who works for the Archdiocese stated. “The erosion of top soil has drastically declined even when the rains are heavy, and now it will be much easier to reclaim the land,” he said.
The drastic decline of erosion is a result of check dams, rock bunds, hillside ditches, and rock armoring, all built as measures to control soil erosion. The measures were introduced by Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Lief Christenson, a hydrogeologist who came to help the Archdiocese reclaim 57 the land. Lief’s initial plan was to advance the previous engineering solutions, but after a careful analysis he realized that the plan would not only be costly, but create even more problems.
His new plan was much simpler, and more effective. Along each gulley, he would build two rock check-dams, which would prevent soil erosion in two ways: they would slow down the speed of water, and at the same time, rocks at the base would trap any soil and prevent it from passing through. Lief also devised an additional system of engineered controls including, hillside ditches, rock bunds, rock armoring, and plantings. He demonstrated this technology to William and his team of several volunteers, who would later help the Archdiocese lay down the check-dams across the farm. These were just the first steps, which William and his team would use as building blocks for an erosion control plan. The team has since been using a levelling device they received from Leif to lay out additional hillside ditches, on which plants can now be seen sprouting.
“The greatest thing it gave us is hope,” Alex says. “Initially things were getting out of control, and the erosion issue was becoming hopeless, but now we know what to do.”
Accompanying the technology transfer was a detailed report that outlined a plan to control soil erosion in the future. “The plan was integrated and holistic in looking at the entire land and outlined solutions, while accounting for all possible factors and conditions,” William says. The report did not only help William design an erosion control plan but it also helped the Archdiocese receive additional funding for the land reclamation project.
“Because of the Farmer-to-Farmer expertise, we are very hopeful that we will eventually reclaim our land and make it useful,” Alex stated, adding that their plan is to develop a Center for Excellency that would include a school with Kindergarten to A-level classes, and a youth center where young people will acquire employable skills.
The Archdiocese is also planning to approach the Agha Khan Foundation to use the same technology to control gully erosion, on its 1,000-acre piece of land that borders the Arch-diocese’ property, so that it does not pose further threat.