Séverine Chavanne
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16 January, 2013

Saving land, saving water, saving lives

(Photo: Owen Lean)
(Photo: Owen Lean)

‘Thirty five per cent of the world’s population live in drylands and produce 43 per cent of the world’s food. And they’re the ones who are hungry. So whether we’re looking at their future or reflecting for a little while on our own future, if we don’t do something about drylands, then you need to start getting very concerned about where you’re going to get your food and your water.’

This is how Simon Maddrell, co-founder and Executive Director of Excellent Development, made the issue of land degradation a reality for participants at a Greencoat Forum in the London centre of Initiatives of Change on 8 January.

Maddrell was speaking on restoring land, lives and peace, along with Dr Alan Channer, a documentary film director whose films foster peace building and reconciliation. Both are involved with the Initiative for Land, Lives and Peace, a programme of Initiatives of Change. The Forum was chaired by Geoffrey Lean, the doyen of environmental journalism in the UK.

Channer and Maddrell’s work aims to empower local communities living in dryland areas to restore peace and dialogue among themselves and then work together on creating a virtuous cycle of soil and water conservation, which will allow them to overcome hunger and poverty.

Restoring Peace

Alan Channer (left), participants and organisers of the two-day workshop in Marigat, Kenya (Photo: Alan Channer)
Alan Channer (left), participants and organisers of the two-day workshop in Marigat, Kenya (Photo: Alan Channer)
Channer spoke of the pastoral communities of the semi-desert belt, south of the Sahara, who move around the area following the seasons to find water and grass for their cattle. Their livelihood is ruled by the seasons and warrior qualities are prized to defend their scarce resources.

‘With the population pressure, the war, the desertification and the drought, these communities are in shock,’ said Channer. He explained that they live in great insecurity because of armed raiding and cattle rustling. These have created a deep mutual mistrust between ethnic groups.

To enable peace to develop, Channer, supported by the Initiative for Land, Lives, and Peace translated the film An African Answer into Swahili and showed it in Kenya. The film offers peace-building methods led by two faith leaders – Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye from Nigeria.

Channer told how, following its screening, the pastoral communities in the region of Baringo, in Kenya, felt this was a method that could help them resolve their conflicts between ethnic groups and asked the imam and the pastor to deliver a workshop bringing together people from different communities. As a result, an inter-ethnic peace committee was created ‘to see how best to share resources and work together towards sustainable land use.’

Channer showed a short film of the work done in that workshop.

Restoring Land

Simon Maddrell (Photo: Owen Lean)
Simon Maddrell (Photo: Owen Lean)
‘A lot of places in Africa have as much rainfall as London does,’ Simon Maddrell explained. The problem is that all this water falls in a very concentrated space of time and washes away into the ocean the top soil that could be used for agriculture.

As a result, people have to walk a long way for water. Women spend an average of five to six hours daily, collecting enough water to support one meal a day. This can increase up to 12 hours during a drought. This leaves them no time to invest in the land and grow food.

Maddrell said: ‘The answer to restoring lands is the conservation of soil and water.’ He said the first step is to keep the water in the land, close to people’s homes, through terracing; planting trees to retain the soil and allow the land to absorb water; and building sand dams to retain the water of the rainy season in the land.

‘A sand dam can hold between two and 20 million litres of water and it’s filtered clean by the sand,’ Maddrell explained. Three immediate advantages are: the water stored in the sand does not evaporate with the heat, doesn’t constitute a vector for mosquitoes to breed and worms causing diarrhoea to develop; and is near to where people need it, within 30 to 90 minutes of their homes.

He showed a short film about sand dams and their effectiveness.

Restoring Lives

With peace, teamwork and very simple techniques, populations are fed, and their health is less threatened by bacteria found in dirty water. People are enabled to spend more time to invest in their land and generate income, which can in turn be invested.

‘When you ask them what their priority is,’ said Maddrell, ‘they don’t say “income”, they say “school fees”. That passion and commitment to invest in their own children’s education to give them a better future is also what can be achieved through this model.’

The virtuous cycle of development advocated by Maddrell is created. He concluded: ‘Our work now is to focus on supporting other communities and organisations, and let them learn about these techniques.’

(Photo: Owen Lean)
(Photo: Owen Lean)

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