Indigenous Farmers Harvest Water with Small Dams in Peru’s Andes Highlands

Local residents of Churia, a village of some 25 families at more than 3,100 meters above sea level in the highlands of the Peruvian department of Ayacucho, are building simple dikes to fill ponds with water to irrigate their crops, water their animals and consume at home. CREDIT: Courtesy of Huñuc Mayu


BMariela Jara

AYACUCHO, Peru, Jun 29 2020 (IPS) – A communally built small dam at almost 3,500 meters above sea level supplies water to small-scale farmer Cristina Azpur and her two young daughters in Peru’s Andes highlands, where they face water shortages exacerbated by climate change.

“We built the walls of the reservoir with stone and earth and planted ‘queñua’ trees last year in February, to absorb water,” she tells IPS by phone from her hometown of Chungui, population 4,500, located in La Mar, one of the provinces hardest hit by the violence of the Maoist group Shining Path, which triggered a 20-year civil war in the country between 1980 and 2000.

The queñua (Polylepis racemosa) is a tree native to the Andean highlands with a thick trunk that protects it from low temperatures. It is highly absorbent of rainwater and is considered sacred by the Quechua indigenous people.

In Chungui and other Andes highlands municipalities populated by Quechua Indians in the southwestern department of Ayacucho, the native tree species has been the main input for the recovery and preservation of water sources.

Eutropia Medina, president of the board of directors of Huñuc Mayu (which means “meeting of rivers” in Quechua), an NGO that has been working for 15 years to promote the rights of people living in rural communities in the region, one of the country’s poorest, explains how the trees are used.

Women from several Andean highlands communities in Ayacucho, Peru, have played a very active role in harvesting water, including protecting the headwaters of streams. In the picture, a group of women and girls are involved in a community activity in Oronccoy, a village about 3,200 meters above sea level. CREDIT: Courtesy of Huñuc Mayu

“The women and men have planted more than 10,000 queñua trees in the different communities as part of their plan to harvest water,” she tells IPS in Ayacucho, the regional capital. “These are techniques handed down from their ancestors that we have helped revive to boost their agricultural and animal husbandry activities, which are their main livelihood.”

Medina, previously director of the NGO, explains that the acceleration of climate change in recent years, due to the unregulated exploitation of natural resources, has generated an imbalance in highland ecosystems, increasing greenhouse gases and fuelling deglaciation and desertification.

The resultant water shortages have been particularly difficult for women, who are in charge of domestic responsibilities and supplying water, while also working in the fields.

Huñuc Mayu, with the support of the national office of Diakonia, a faith-based Swedish development organisation, has provided training and technical assistance to strengthen water security in these rural Andean highland communities where the main activities are small-scale farming and livestock raising.

The queñua, one of the most cold-resistant trees in the world, is native to the high plains of the Andes, and is culturally valued by the Quechua indigenous people. It is a great climate regulator, controls erosion and stores a large amount of water, which filters into the soil and from there nourishes the springs of the Andean highlands. CREDIT: Esteban Vera/Flickr

The queñua, one of the most cold-resistant trees in the world, is native to the high plains of the Andes, and is culturally valued by the Quechua indigenous people. It is a great climate regulator, controls erosion and stores a large amount of water, which filters into the soil and from there nourishes the springs of the Andean highlands. CREDIT: Esteban Vera/Flickr

This is an area that has recently been repopulated after two decades in which families fled the internal conflict, during which Ayacucho accounted for 40 percent of all victims.

“Huñuc Mayu helped organise the returnees and people who had remained in the communities, and we promoted the planting of fruit trees and connections to markets,”

She explains that “in this process more water and technical forms of irrigation were needed, so through a water fund the communities created projects for the conservation of basins and micro-basins in the area.”

The impact is significant, she points out, because in the past families depended on the rains for their water supply and during the dry season and times of drought they had a very difficult time because they could not irrigate their crops or water their animals.

Denisse Chavez is gender officer at the Peruvian office of Diakonia, a Swedish organisation that promotes rights in vulnerable communities around the world. In Peru it partnered with the NGO Huñuc Mayu to revive ancestral knowledge of the Quechua communities of the Andean highlands and thus strengthen water security for local inhabitants. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Denisse Chavez is gender officer at the Peruvian office of Diakonia, a Swedish organisation that promotes rights in vulnerable communities around the world. In Peru it partnered with the NGO Huñuc Mayu to revive ancestral knowledge of the Quechua communities of the Andean highlands and thus strengthen water security for local inhabitants. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Today, things have changed.

Churia, a village of just 25 families at more than 3,100 meters above sea level, in the district of Vinchos, is another community that has promoted solutions to address the water shortage problem.

Oliver Cconislla, 23, lives there with his wife Maximiliana Llacta and their four-year-old son. The family depends on small-scale farming and animal husbandry.


A complex, integral and sustainable solution

The NGO Huñuc Mayu is strengthening water security by reviving ancient indigenous techniques for harvesting water from streams in the highlands department of Ayacucho. The work is being carried out in that area to ensure sustainability, because it is where the rivers emerge and where water must be retained to benefit families in the middle and lower basins, the institution’s director, Alberto Chacchi, an expert on the subject, tells IPS.

“It’s a complex system that not only involves containing water in ponds but also recuperating natural pastures that capture water when it rains and form wetlands and springs, building rustic dikes to contain water in ponds, planting native tree species and conserving the soil,” he says.

To illustrate, he mentions Alpaccocha, which was a high-altitude wetland that dried up when there was no rainfall. But since the village of Churia built a dam it has become a pond containing 57,000 cubic meters of water.

The total cost including communal labour has been 20,000 soles – about 5,700 dollars. “A reservoir of that size would have cost the state three million soles (854,000 dollars) because it would use conventional technology that also alters ecosystems and would not be sustainable,” he says.

In order for local families to use water from the pond, two pipes with a valve have been placed in the dike, and the valve opens when rainfall is low, letting the water run out as a stream so people can place hoses downhill and use it for sprinkler irrigation. Communal authorities manage the system to ensure equitable distribution.

Each dike also has diversion channels at both ends that allow excess water to flow out once the pond is full, thus keeping moist the wetlands that used to dry out at the end of the rainy season.


“Here we depend on the alpaca, using its meat to feed and nourish the children, making jerky (dried meat, ‘charki’ in Quechua) to store it, and when we have enough food we sell to the market. We spin the wool, weave it and sell it too,” he tells IPS over the phone.

His family has been able to count on grass and drinking water – absolutely vital to their livelihood – for their 50 alpacas and 15 sheep thanks to work by the organised community.

“We have been working to harvest water for three years,” he says. “We’ve built dikes, we’ve been separating off the ponds and planting queñua trees on the slopes of the hill. Last year I was a local authority and we worked hand in hand with Huñuc Mayu.”

Cconislla reports that they dammed six ponds using local materials such as grass, soil and clay – “only materials we found in the ground.” They also fenced off the queñua plantations.

“Now when there is no rain we are no longer sad or worried because we have the ponds. The dam keeps the water from running out, and when it fills up it spills over the banks, creating streams that run down to where the animals drink so they have permanent pasture; that area stays humid even during times of drought,” he says.

In addition to these ecosystem services, trout have been stocked in one of the ponds to provide food for families, especially children. “As a community we manage these resources so that they are maintained over time for the benefit of us and the children who will come,” he states.

Cristina Azpur, 46, has no animals, but she does have crops that need irrigation. She runs the household and the farm with the help of her two daughters, ages 11 and 13, when they are not in school, because she does not have a husband, “since it is better to be alone than in bad company,” she says, laughing.

For her and the other families living in houses scattered around the community of Chungui, the dam ensures that they have the water they need to grow their crops and raise their livestock, she says.

“I am about to plant potatoes, olluco (Ullucus tuberosus, a tuber whose leaves are also eaten), and oca (another tuber). This month of June we have had a small campaign (special planting of some crops between May and July), and we use water from the reservoir to ensure our food supply, which is the most important thing to stay healthy,” she says proudly.

She politely adds that she cannot continue talking because she must help her daughters, who study remotely through programmes broadcast on public television, due to the lockdown in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the neighbouring town of Oronccoy, home to some 60 families and founded in 2016, Natividad Ccoicca, 53, also grows her vegetables with water from a community-built reservoir.

She and her family, who live at an altitude of over 3,300 meters, have been part of an experience that has substantially improved their quality of life.

“It used to be very hard to fetch water,” she tells IPS. “We had to walk long distances and even take the horses to carry the containers that we filled at the springs. Now with the reservoir we have water for the farm, the animals and our own consumption.”

She also explains that because of the measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 there is greater demand for water in homes. “Can you imagine how things would be for us without the reservoir? We would have a higher risk of getting sick, that’s for sure,” she says.

Women and men work communally to install hoses and irrigate their crops using a sprinkler system, and also for human consumption, in Oronccoy, a village of 60 families in the Peruvian Andes highlands. CREDIT: Courtesy of Huñuc Mayu

Women and men work communally to install hoses and irrigate their crops using a sprinkler system, and also for human consumption, in Oronccoy, a village of 60 families in the Peruvian Andes highlands. CREDIT: Courtesy of Huñuc Mayu

These experiences of harvesting water are part of Huñuc Mayu’s integral proposal for the management of hydrographic basins using Andean techniques in synergy with low-cost conventional technologies to strengthen water security.

Medina highlights the involvement of the communities and the active participation of women, who in the Quechua worldview have a close link with water.

“We see important achievements by the communities themselves and the local people,” she says. “For example, the water supply has expanded in response to the demands of agricultural production and human consumption.”

Medina adds that “women have been active participants in protecting the sources of water and the work involved in raising livestock has been reduced to the benefit of their health. These are major contributions that improve the quality of life of families” in this historically neglected part of Peru.

An interesting experiment with the soil conditioner TerraCottem by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem (Ghent University, Belgium)

One of the major problems of planting tree saplings, e.g. for reforestation projects, is getting the nicely watered saplings, coming from the nursery, growing and surviving in a dry soil. In many cases survival rate of tree saplings in the field is rather low (even 30-40 % in some Western African countries)
Studying methods to improve these survival rates, we have set up some experiments with the soil conditioner TerraCottem, developed in my laboratory in 1982-1992. These experiments were set up in 1988 with my friend Gilbert Van Gampelaere, a skilled technician, at the Provincial Centre for Floriculture (PCS, Destelbergen).

Experiment 1. Testing root length of young Fuchsia plants in two long pipes, filled with a mixture of potting mix and thin layers of TerraCottem (TC) :

(a) Photo 1 Left: Fuchsia growing in a transparent plastic pipe (to be able to follow the roots during their growth. When filling the pipe with potting mix, thin layers of TC were positioned at different heights (see whitish stripes in the pipe). At the moment of pouring water in the pipe, the water absorbing polymers in TC are absorbing a lot of the percolating water and they are transformed into hydrogels, which keep the surrounding potting mix moistened for quite a long time. As plant root tips are easily discovering where water is present in the soil, the roots are growing swiftly from the upper TC-layers to the lowest ones in the pipe. Thus, root length is significantly stimulated within the shortest time (see Photo 2).

(b) Photo 1 Right : Fuchsia growing in half of a long pipe (cut longitudinally in two parts (see Photo 2), filled with potting mix and thin layers of TC at different heights. Here, the half pipe is surrounded by a layer of cocos coir fibers to keep the potting mix in place. The same effect of the presence of TC-layers in the pipe is registered : the roots are swiftly growing downwards to fill the complete pipe within the shortest time.

Experiment 2. Testing root length of ornamental seedlings in three PVC-pipes with different diameter, filled with a mixture of potting mix and thin layers of TerraCottem (TC) :

(c) Photo 2 Left : Root growth in a broad pipe (diameter 8 cm)

(d) Photo 2 Center : Root growth in a narrow pipe (diameter 5 cm), but longer than the one at the Left.

(e) Photo 2 Right : Root growth in broad pipe (diameter 8 cm), but longer than the one at the Left.

RESULTS : In the 3 types of pipe the roots reached the bottom of the pipe during the same period of time. It shows clearly that the presence of TC at different depths in the ground stimulates the roots to grow deeper and deeper. It is well-known that deeper layers in the ground are more humid than the upper ones and thus offer more chances for roots to find sufficient water to continue their growth after transplantation from the nursery.

CONCLUSION : This experiment shows obviously that one can create a positive effect on survival rate of tree saplings by ;

A. Letting the saplings develop in long pipes with layers of TC at different heights.

B. Dig deeper plant holes than the classical 30 x 30 x 30 cm ones and, when refilling those deeper plant holes with the same local soil, disperse a thin layer of granular TC at different depths in the plant pit.

This will certainly stimulate the tree saplings to develop rather quickly deeper and deeper roots (from TC-layer to TC-layer). The deeper the tree roots grow, the higher the survival rate.

Photos Gilbert Van Gampelaere and Willem Van Cotthem

Nigeria : NDA Flags-off planting of 10,000 trees to tackle desertification

By Ibrahim Dahiru Danfulani

The Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) has flags-off the planting of 10,000 variety of trees on its 2 campuses at Afaka and Ribadu areas of Kaduna to tackle desertification.

The Commandant of NDA, Maj Gen Jamil Sarham on Friday flagged off of the ‘NDA Green Project’ to tackle desert encroachment and beautify the environment.

Gen Sarham said, “One of the challenges we are facing in sub Saharan Africa is the rapid desertification of land and one of the key ways of stopping encroachment and desertification is by planting trees.

“I do know the great green wall project is still on, but in our own little way, we must ensure that in 10, 20 or more years to come, we still have a secure and healthy environment.” He explained that the idea of the green project was borne out of the desire to have a secured and healthy environment.

the Commandant noted that the training of cadets on land which sometimes hampers on trees also called for planting of more trees.
He disclosed that the planting excercise would be sustained in the two campuses of Afaka and Ribadu cantonment with a view to having a conducive environment.

The Commandant added that the 10, 000 tree seedlings were purchased from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation and would be planted on its two campuses in Kaduna. He acknowlege the intervention of the federal ministry of environment by donating more seedlings for the project.

He urged cadets, military and non military staff of NDA to take good care of any trees they planted.

SCO Secretary-General’s interview on combating desertification and droughts with TASS Russian News Agency and Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily) newspaper

17 June each year is World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. In this connection, TASS Russian News Agency and Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily) newspaper interviewed SCO Secretary-General Vladimir Norov.

Desertification is a serious global problem spelling major consequences for regional and global environmental security. It presents a serious challenge to humankind’s efforts to eradicate poverty, threatens socio-economic stability and sustainable development. The inevitable consequences of desertification include food and water shortages, reduced crop yields, hunger and poverty and forced migration. Social, economic and political tension, linked with these developments, can lead to socio-political conflicts.

Problems linked with desertification and soil degradation affect a considerable part of the SCO region, primarily Central Asia.

Vladimir Norov also noted that all the SCO member states face the threat of droughts and soil degradation. They share approaches for dealing with them under the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and exert active efforts in this field, including under their respective national programmes.

The Secretary-General devoted special attention to the shrinkage of the Aral Sea; this process can impact the gene pool and the health of the Aral region’s population, as well as the diversity of its plant and animal life. The tragedy of the Aral Sea has changed the lifestyle of millions of people and destroyed the region’s social and economic systems. Its dry section contains a salty desert with an area of over 5.5 million hectares. The drying out of the Aral Sea has launched a double desertification process and increases overall dust content in Central Asian air space. Dust clouds have been known to reach high altitudes and have spread over considerable distances.

In his interview, Mr Norov also provided exhaustive information on functioning multilateral mechanisms and programmes to save the Aral Sea.

In conclusion, the SCO Secretary-General stated joint intra-UN and intra-SCO approaches.

For example, he shared information on the SCO’s environmental protection agenda, joint projects involving international and regional organisations and the Organisation’s contractual-legal framework whose implementation aims to preserve the environmental balance in the SCO region and to restore biodiversity in the interests of future generations, to create favourable conditions for the population’s well-being and sustainable development.

In 1994, the UN General Assembly declared 17 June World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought for raising the international community’s awareness of this problem.

This date was selected in connection with the anniversary of passing the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in countries facing serious droughts and desertification. The document is the only legally binding international agreement defining the environment’s impact on the state of land resources. It aims to boost the stability of communities and ecosystems and to improve people’s living conditions, especially in arid regions.

In 2019, 193 UN member countries, including all SCO member states, had signed the Convention. Since 1999, the Convention’s Permanent Secretariat is located in Bonn, Germany.

The full text of the interview is posted on TASS and Renmin Ribao websites

Guyana :


By Staff Reporter – June 21, 2020 –

DESERTIFICATION and Drought Day is a United Nations observance which is held on June 17 each year. The focus is on changing public attitudes to the leading driver of desertification and land degradation: humanity’s relentless production and consumption.

Drought and desertification are closely related phenomena. Persisting over months or years, drought can affect large areas and may have serious environmental, social, and economic impacts. This can be seen in Regions One (1) and Nine (9) in Guyana where hundreds of villagers are either displaced or suffer due to either flooding or extreme drought. One can argue that drought is a natural phenomenon, but its impacts can be exacerbated by human activities that are not adapted to the local climate. Inappropriate land use, such as monocultures, and unsustainable land management practices, such as deforestation, unsuitable agricultural practices, and overexploitation of water resources, can cause land degradation that can be further aggravated by drought.

“If we keep producing and consuming, as usual, we will eat into the planet’s capacity to sustain life until there is nothing left but scraps. We all need to make better choices about what we eat and what we wear to help protect and restore the land.” — Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary to the UNCCD.

Desertification and Drought Day, running under the slogan “Food, Feed, Fibre” seeks to educate individuals on how to reduce their personal impact. As populations become larger and more urban, there is far greater demand for land to provide food, animal feed, and fibre for clothing. Meanwhile, the health and productivity of existing arable land are declining, worsened by climate change. To have enough productive land to meet the demands of ten billion people by 2050, lifestyles need to change. We, humans, can think and use our skills to engineer solutions. Try as we might, we cannot control the weather. Thus we cannot prevent droughts that are caused strictly by a lack of rainfall or abundance of heat. We can however, manage our water resources to better handle these conditions so that drought does not occur during short dry spells.

What can be done?
With changes in consumer and corporate behaviour, and the adoption of more efficient planning and sustainable practices, there could be enough land to meet the demand. If every consumer were to buy products that do not degrade the land, suppliers would cut back the flow of these products and send a powerful signal to producers and policymakers.
Changes in diet and behaviours – such as cutting food waste, buying from local markets and swapping clothes instead of always buying new – can free up land for other uses and lower carbon emissions. Dietary change alone can free up between 80 and 240 million hectares of land.

In Guyana, the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission works with partner agencies like the EPA to implement the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, and successfully hosted the seventeenth session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 17) of the UNCCD.

Find out more at

Uganda: War on drought is the way to go–War-on-drought-is-the-way-to-go/689364-5579566-jw7hml/index.html

By J. S. Nalukwago

Every June 17, the world marks Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. The day is commemorated in recognition of the milestones made by countries on sustainable land management. The UN observance day will this year be held under the theme: ‘Food, Feed, Fibre,’ with the aim of educating people on how to reduce their impact on earth.

Population growth has grave effects on the planet through increased demand for food and fibre for clothing, which cause land degradation and contribute to climate change.

For example, 8 per cent of global emissions are from clothing and footwear production. The unsustainable demand for food, clothing and animal feeds reduces land productivity through activities which can cause drought and desertification if not hampered.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) defines desertification as land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities.

Drought is the natural occurring phenomenon existing when precipitation has been below normal recorded levels, causing serious hydrological imbalances that affect land resource production systems.

Today, dry areas represent 41 per cent of earth’s land surface and are home to more than two billion people. Of this, Africa occupies the greater proportion at 66 per cent. Uganda’s dry lands occupy the cattle corridor where drought conditions are prevalent.

SKUAST-K holds conference on combating desertification and drought


By KR Desk on June 20, 2020

Srinagar: Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Kashmir held an online conference on, ‘Food, Feed and Fibre: Linking Production and Consumption’ with an aim to create ‘positive environmental action’ to protect soil from desertification and drought.
The event was organized by the SKUAST-K’s Faculty of Agriculture, Wadura in collaboration with ICAR-World Bank funded National Agricultural Higher Education Project (NAHEP) to commemorate World Day to combat desertification and drought. About 500 students, scholars, faculty members and scientists participated in the event.
Vice-Chancellor of SKUAST-K Prof Nazeer Ahmed, who was the chief guest of the programme, said that the loss of biodiversity and productivity arises from the physical, chemical and biological degradation of the land. It affects the entire natural environment and has far-reaching effects on human welfare and the global economy.
He emphasized on developing suitable technologies keeping soil health and sustainable agriculture in mind. He also informed at the occasion that the varsity has developed a drought-tolerant variety of maize, which has been evaluated at different drought-prone areas of the country and is ready for release.
The vice-chancellor also applauded the work of Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI), Jodhpur and expressed the university’s interest for the establishment of one of its station at cold arid region Leh, Ladakh. He urged director CAZARI, Dr OP Yadav, who was guest of honour at the occasion, to work in close coordination with the SKUAST-K.
Dr Yadav in his lecture said that good agricultural practices could help restore 2 billion hectares of land benefiting about 1.3 billion population of the country. He emphasized on the fact that India suffers from some of the highest rates of desertification globally. It is likely to suffer from extreme biodiversity loss, a decline in living standards and GDP losses unless action is taken to reduce desertification.
Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, Wadura Prof AH Hakeem said J&K has an ecologically fragile ecosystem and faulty agricultural practices can lead to an increased pace of land degradation. Dr Priyabratra Santra, Principal Scientist NRM, ICAR CAZRI, Jodhpur gave a presentation on “wind erosion, land degradation and the environment in hot and arid regions of India”. Dr DS Pai, SC-F & Head, Climate research and services IMD, Pune delivered a lecture on “Indian monsoon, mechanism and forecast” and also interacted with the students and scientific staff on the impact of monsoon on Indian agriculture. In addition to the webinars from the experts, selected youth presented their views under the event to combat desertification and drought. Prof Farooq A Zaki said that desertification and drought are gradually reducing the capacity of ecosystems in affected regions to sustain life
School students Ishaal Parvez (1st Std.), Nahla Bhat (7th std.), Bazila Wani undergraduate student of Faculty of Agriculture and Sabah Parvaze, PhD student of COAE expressed their views on conservation of soil, land degradation, conversion, desertification and drought. The degradation of the land reduces biodiversity and contributes to climatic changes while reducing land productivity and the ability for communities to sustain livelihoods.
Prof. Raihana Habib Kanth, organizing secretary coordinated the event and informed the house that climate change will increase the odds of worsening drought and water scarcity in many parts of the world. Participants pledged to conserve soil by taking more land under cultivation, conserve biodiversity and save natural resources. The webinar event was followed by an online quiz and slogan competition coordinated by Prof Raihana Habib Kanth and Dr Naveed Hamid, in which more than 500 students participated and e-certificates were issued to participants securing above 50 percent.

Feeding the world


The World Food Prize could be an award you’ve never heard of — it doesn’t have quite the star power of the Nobel Prizes. The prestige of the prize grows with the realization that increased agricultural production to feed the world is a necessity. At the same time, combating the warming environment protects food production by fighting desertification.

Ohio State University professor Rattan Lal was announced the winner of the World Food Prize last week. Mr. Lal, a soil scientist, tackles food production and environmental protection in his work. It is work that has improved food production worldwide — he’s taken his knowledge to the world, including working in Australia and Nigeria.

Mr. Lal deserves recognition for his work and governments, farmers, and agribusinesses worldwide must take his work to heart and promote the practices he advocates through his research — and his work on the ground.

His insights built upon, and gave scientific oomph to what generations of farmers knew instinctively. Good farmers know the soil must be replenished, but they often rely simply on traditional fertilizers.

Mr. Lal discovered the key to more productive soil meant replacing depleted carbon with crop residue and remains — improvements involve an array of agricultural practices.

By returning crop residue into the soil, not only is the quality of the soil increased, but carbon that would otherwise go into the atmosphere replenished the soil.

Mr. Lal’s work built upon the best ways to replenish the soil and at the same time offered a bonus — less carbon in the atmosphere, slowing the warming of the Earth.

His award drew the attention of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said “He’s helping the Earth’s estimated 500 million small farmers be faithful stewards of their land through improved management, less soil degradation, and the recycling of nutrients. The billions of people who depend on these farms stand to benefit greatly from his work.”

The food prize does have a Nobel Prize connection. It was created by Nobel Peace prize laureate Norman Borlaug in 1986. And that makes sense: Peace, both within nations and between nations, is promoted by adequate food to feed people. The causes of violence and despair are often rooted in poverty and hunger.

Mr. Lal is contributing through his work to peace in the world.

Popular doesn’t mean influential among Cambodian farmers

Tackling food insecurity by leveraging social networks

University of Sydney

Does being popular make a person influential? Not always. A social network analysis by Sydney researchers found that less popular farmers in Cambodia were in fact more influential than their more popular peers.

Junjian Zhang (centre) led the social network survey in the field and collected data from over 120 farmers. Credit: Junjian Zhang
University of Sydney alumnus, Junjian Zhang (centre) led the social network survey in the field and collected data from over 120 farmers. Credit: Junjian Zhang

It’s become common practice for NGOs and environmental development agencies to use ‘influencers’ for the roll out of environmentally sustainable farming practices, but this isn’t always the most effective method, say social network analysts from the University of Sydney.

Published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, their research examined the role of social network brokers – well-connected individuals within a community – in the adoption of innovative farming practices in Battambang Province in North-Western Cambodia. The authors, Dr Petr Matous, Junjian Zhang and Associate Professor Daniel Tan found that less popular farmers were better influencers, compared to their more popular peers. 

“Similar to marketers on social media, the international development industry and environment conservation organisations have become enamoured with the idea of leveraging local ‘influencers’ to deliver programs ranging from behavioural interventions, to the promotion of new technologies,” said Faculty of Engineering academic and environmental and humanitarian engineer, Dr Petr Matous.

“External organisations often don’t have the capacity to support every single farmer in a village and show them how a new technology works. Instead, they often select several ‘model farmers’, who they choose based on whether they are community leaders or regularly offer advice,” he said. 

“They then give these ‘popular’ and seemingly influential farmers new technologies in the hope they will adopt them and disseminate the knowledge or technology around the village using their social networks.

The researchers found that providing less popular farmers with new information and technologies was more likely to result in a wider community adoption of sustainable farming practices. 

“Farmers who move between diverse sub-communities and were more open-minded were the most receptive to the early adoption of the recommended farming practices such as crop rotation or drip irrigation and they are not the same group as the most ‘popular’ farmers,” said Dr Matous.

“This might be the case because popular farmers may be reluctant or tired of being repeatedly used by external agencies. Whether in Cambodia or anywhere else, the fact that someone is locally prominent does not necessarily mean that they are interested in new environmental or resource-conserving practices.

“The findings suggest that we should not excessively rely only on the handful of prominent farmers in the hope that new technologies will magically trickle down from them to others, who are often their competitors. To tackle environmental degradation and looming food insecurity, we need to better engage larger sections of the communities.”

Implementing sustainable practices 

Rice farming is Battambang’s main agricultural activity, although many farmers apply practices that deteriorate soil health and water resources, often leading to insufficient yields. Coupled with environmental degradation and the current COVID-19 pandemic, the region’s food security has deteriorated. 

To combat this, since 2017, University of Sydney researchers have been working with Battambang farmers to diversify their crops and adopt practices that will better sustain their livelihoods and the local environment.

“One practice we have worked to implement is crop rotation: alternately planting different crops on the same land in between rice growing seasons, for example, mungbean, watermelon, rice and cucumber,” said Associate Professor Daniel Tan from Sydney Institute of Agriculture and the Faculty of Science. 

“This practice ensures that organic matter in the soil is preserved, which improves soil structure and nutrient content, and prevents soil erosion. It also allows the producers to gain additional income in between rice harvest when their fields would be otherwise unused,” said PhD student and the study’s lead author, Junjian Zhang.

“Another practice that we studied and promoted was drip irrigation: a low-cost system of small perforated hoses laid between crops that bring water to the root zone, with minimal loss by evaporation and surface run off,” he said.


As a part of a long-term engagement in North-Western Cambodia, the study’s lead researchers conducted a social network analysis in the village of Battambang, using interviews and a detailed questionnaire that asked farmers to provide details about their social network, including questions such as, “who do you go to for farming advice?”. The quantitative part of the data was analysed with network science tools and graph theory. 

Junjian Zhang led the social network survey in the field and collected data from over 120 farmers while studying at the University of Sydney. He has successfully completed his degree in Sydney and is now studying Engineering for Sustainable Development at the University of Cambridge.

China : Efforts made to restore ecology near Great Wall

The former barren mountains near the Guangwu section of the Great Wall are now covered in lush vegetation. /VCG


Serving as a barrier between farmers and nomads in ancient China, the Great Wall was once a site of conflict between the farming Han people to its south and the nomads to the north.

The frequent skirmishes led to a deteriorating ecological environment in the areas adjacent to the walls for thousands of years.

In north China’s Shanxi Province, authorities of counties and cities along the Great Wall have made great efforts to repair the ecological system, exploring a path of green growth and making the areas along the walls more attractive to tourists.

At the Guangwu section of the Great Wall in Shanyin County, the deteriorating environment featuring gradual desertification, frequent sandstorms and severe soil erosion used to be a big threat to the lives of locals and the Great Wall itself.

Authorities in the county began a campaign to improve the environment in 2007 that aimed to curb desertification and prevent sandstorms.

Trees and grasses have been planted along the Great Wall over the past decades. As a result, more than 3,000 hectares of deserts along the wall are now covered in vegetation, according to local officials.

“To further improve the environment, we have planted 5,400 hectares of trees in Shanyin in recent years, expanding the county’s forest coverage to nearly 15,000 hectares,” said Lan Yechun, deputy chief at the county’s Forestry and Grassland Bureau.

The Guangwu section of the Great Wall in Shanyin County, north China’s Shanxi Province. /VCG

Lan said another 400 hectares of forests were added to Shanyin during the first five months of this year.

“As the mountains become greener, the water becomes clean and the sky becomes blue, the sightseeing areas along the Great Wall have attracted more visitors in recent years, bringing more revenue to local residents,” the official said.

When reflecting on the 13-year greening campaign, Lan said the achievement was the result of painstaking efforts, especially on steep and craggy mountains and slopes.

“Our forestry workers carried soil onto the slopes of the mountains and hills, where the soil had been washed away after centuries of water erosion,” the official said. “Tree-planting tools, saplings and water were also transported by hand.”

To collect more rainfall, saplings were planted in deep holes. The soil near the trees was covered by polyethylene sheets to prevent evaporation.

In Datong, a city boasting more than 260 kilometers of the Great Wall, breakthroughs were also made in its greening campaign.

According to the forestry and grassland bureau of Datong, the city invested more than 260 million yuan (36.77 million US Dollars) in planting 2,900 hectares of trees in 2019.

Guo Qing, an official at the Datong Planning and Natural Resources Bureau, said the city’s greening campaigns have taken the local topography, climate, soil conditions and ecosystem into consideration.

“We have planted trees, bushes and grasses according to various conditions to ensure the survival rate of the vegetation,” the official said.

(All images via VCG)

Private sector investment crucial to combat desertification: UNCCD

Alok Gupta –

In the battle against reversing land degradation, investment from the private sector could help prevent disruption in global food supply and future pandemics, said a senior UN official.  

“We have not been able to convince the private sector, which is basically the main source for land degradation, to invest in land restoration,” Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) told CGTN.

“We have to move from public funds to private investment to reduce land degradation,” he said. The private sector would be getting stimulus packages worth billions of dollars for re-starting the economy that came to a standstill because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“If the stimulus package announced to re-build the economy leads to more land degradation, then we would see another pandemic soon,” Thiaw warned. Companies have an opportunity to use a part of the stimulus money for investing in land restoration projects, which promises lucrative profits.  

According to the estimates by leading environmental economists, on average, one U.S. dollar investment into the restoration of degraded land returns five U.S. dollars. But despite such impressive returns, the private sector has mostly stayed back from investing heavily in the land restoration initiatives.

The issue of land ownership has become one of the prominent “bottlenecks” deterring companies from investing in projects like conserving wetlands. While communities fear land grab from big corporate houses, companies, on the other hand, seek a long-term land contract to ensure profitable investment.

“Communities and the private sector should establish relations to find something in it. Companies have started to investment, but it’s not enough,” said Thiaw. “The strong partnership between both parties can generate income from the sustainable use of land, which in turn would also repair the environment and create green jobs.”   

Need to ‘reverse land degradation curve’

More than 75 percent of the Earth’s land substantially degraded globally, affecting nearly 3.2 billion people. Climate change and unsustainable land use have led to a massive increase in desertification – a process of land degradation in dry regions, affecting soil fertility.

Concerned over the rapid pace of land degradation, the United Nations declared 2010-2020 as Decade for Deserts and the Fight Against Desertification. The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought in 2020 held under the theme of Food, Feed, and Fiber on June 17 marks the end of the desertification decade.

“The decade has been quite successful in explaining the international community about the issue of land degradation, but we still have land degradation going on, and we have not reversed the curve,” he said. “We cannot say job well done, yet.”  

In order to achieve the target, the UN has set a goal for achieving land degradation neutrality (LDN) by 2030. 

According to recent estimates, land degradation far exceeds that of land conservation, leading to a severe imbalance.

“More than 80 countries have pledged to restore more than 400 million hectares. But on average we see more land being degraded than land being restored. We haven’t found the balance yet,” Thiaw added.

Land degradation area varies every year because of wildfires, droughts and other adverse weather events triggered by climate change. Policies related to the use of land for growing animal feed, expansion of agricultural land and deforestation also significantly contributes to land degradation. 

China : Efforts to combat desertification make great progress

The once-desert became a vineyard in Gansu Province, 2019. /VCG


The forestry authority announced on June 17 that China has made a great achievement to combat desertification, with a total of 8.8 million hectares of desertified land under control and another 2.2 million to be included by the end of the year.

June 17 marks Desertification and Drought Day, a United Nations observance day that will in 2020 focus on changing public attitudes to the leading driver of desertification and land degradation: humanity’s relentless production and consumption.

On June 17, the National Forestry and Grassland Administration announced it will establish a special office to implement the United Nation’s Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

The once-desert became a vineyard in Gansu Province, 2019. /VCG

Desertification is the process of degradation of once fertile land into arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas. The main reason for desertification is attributed to overexploitation and inappropriate usage of land areas through deforestation, overgrazing and substandard irrigation practices.

According to the United Nations, land degradation has impacted almost a third of the Earth’s arable land in the last 40 years, a landmass nearly half the size of the European Union. And China is severely affected by desertification, with more than a quarter of its territory covered in desert.

Holding some of the largest and most aggressive deserts in the world, China joined the convention in 1996. Thanks to decades of unremitting efforts, the area in China covered by deserts has shrunk by nearly 2,000 square kilometers every year.