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Traditions and innovation in land husbandry: building on local knowledge in Kabale, Uganda

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In the late 1970s and 1980s there was a growing tide of opinion that many ëexpertsí were mistaken about how to conserve soil in Africa. Ideas from outside the continent had been brought to Africa without consulting the local people. Of course many of the new systems recommended (though certainly not all) were technically sound. But the majority - however effective they were at slowing down erosion - simply did not fit in with local production systems. We do not need to write too much here about what those particular problems were. These have been described in detail elsewhere many times. But an example will help to paint the picture. Graded terraces or ëbundsí were introduced into many dry regions of Africa in countries as far apart as Zimbabwe and Burkina Faso. The term ëgradedí means that the ditch above the earth bund is constructed on a gradient (slope) to get rid of extra rainfall runoff. This makes good sense in areas with heavy and reliable rainfall and large fields. The trouble was that these were dry areas where the farmersí first priority was to save water. So in many cases the farmers either ploughed out the bunds or more cleverly adapted them to harvest and hold water. In Zimbabwe this was done by digging deep trenches in the ditch. In Burkina Faso farmers placed stones in spaces in gaps in the bunds - or used stones to replace the bunds altogether - to allow water to spread slowly through the whole field. In Uganda we are familiar with the unpopular colonial by-laws that instructed farmers to do this and not do that . Again although these laws were drawn up with the best intentions they were often shortsighted for various reasons. Can farmers for example in very densely populated areas really be expected to leave wide uncultivated strips between their plots of land? And is it the best approach to force people to look after their land: isnít it better to understand what they are already doing to solve the problem and then look for improvements together?

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