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'Zai' Pits Aid Survival in Sahel

Seydou Walaga, a grey-haired farmer in western Niger, lifts the hatch of his grain silo, a round hut made of sticks and straw, to reveal piles of sorghum and millet.

The crops were harvested nearly seven months ago, the longest a season's yield has ever lasted him in the drought-prone region of West Africa's Sahel, a semi-arid belt below the Sahara stretching from Senegal to Chad.

"My family is still eating the grain I harvested last year," Walaga told the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which has taught him and other farmers methods for increasing crop yields.

"In the years before, my crop only fed us for two months," USAID quoted Walaga as saying in a case study.

The main difference, the farmer said, is a technique he started using called zai, pits dug in hardened farmland and filled with compost and manure. Seeds are planted inside at the start of the rainy season, and the pits boost crop productivity by concentrating scarce water and nutrients around the plants.

Daniel Tiveau

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