Rehabilitating bare areas with ponding

Rehabilitating bare areas with ponding

I am frequently told that the reason very few landowners do soil erosion control or try to rehabilitate bare, degraded areas is because of the costs involved. Soil erosion control can certainly be costly but there are some methods that can be implemented at incredibly low cost and that are effective.

Ponding, or hollows, are simple and cheap to make, they can completely transform bare, capped soil and they help to rehydrate aridified soil by capturing rainwater runoff.

Hollows, or zaï, have been traditionally used in northern Africa since ancient times for improving degraded farming land as crop planting pits in arid areas. Usually about 10-20cm deep, the zaï are dug out with a traditional digging hoe. The pits are made in lines across the field and a small amount of manure is added to each pit before the first rains. This use of water-storing hollows is thus the ideal application for the rehabilitation of sheet-eroded, bare, and capped soil, the principle being the same as that which has been used by the North-African subsistence farmers for centuries.

The following photographs illustrate the construction of hand-made hollows suitable for treating capped, bare areas with uneven terrain. The curved section lies in the downstream direction of water flow and helps to dam runoff water. The hard soil capping is loosened with a pick to a depth of the pick tine. The loosened soil is then shovelled onto the curved edge to form a low earth retaining wall. These hollows can be made 2m apart in rows, which are 1,5m apart. A large number can be made inexpensively by one person in one day.

Important principles and guidelines:

  • Useful where soils have become exposed, aridified and capped.
  • Not suitable for use on slopes.
  • Rooted plants on the site should not be disturbed.
  • Livestock and game must be removed or excluded to eliminate grazing impact for at least three years.
  • Mulching and seeding will speed up the recovery rate.
  • Useful where surface water flow needs to be slowed.
  • Useful where soil is washed away each time that it rains.

Why use ponding?

  • They facilitate water infiltration on bare, capped soil surfaces where little rainwater infiltrates into the subsoil.
  • Each hollow traps ± 50 litters of water. 500 hollows will thus trap 25 000 litres of water, all of which goes into the soil and is not just lost to the nearest drainage.
  • Hollows also trap windblown plant litter, animal droppings and plant seeds which help to kick-start topsoil formation.
  • Each hollow develops a moist, fertile microclimate and becomes a seed production site as pioneer plants mature in and around the hollows.
  • With minimal instruction, hollows are quite easy to prepare by hand.

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1 Comment

  1. neilmajor@telkomsa.net on June 2, 2022 at 1:43 pm

    Such a great simple solution. Also makes it feel like rehabilitation is not too daunting.

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