MCC photo/James Souder

The wind increases and stirs up a cloud of dust right before a large rainstorm in Yé, Burkina Faso. In a field where he has dug half moons to capture rainwater, farmer Etienne Tiendrébeogo walks with David Kaboré, left, a field agent for MCC agriculture partner Office of Development of Evangelical Churches (Office de Développement des Églises Evangélique or ODE), and MCC staff member Kinani Sourabie.

Step into the fields of Etienne Tiendrébeogo in Yé, Burkina Faso, and you'll notice something striking – large half-moon shapes dug into the soil, adding a fanciful touch to the dirt of rural fields.

The result is anything but fanciful.

These half moons, combined with other new agricultural techniques Tiendrébeogo learned through the work of MCC partner Office of Development of Evangelical Churches (Office de Développement des Églises Evangélique or ODE), have changed his life. 

When Tiendrébeogo first heard about half-moons, he doubted they would work. 

Too often, harvests used to bring a tough choice.

"In the past, we used to sell food saved for our family to pay for school fees, which sometimes meant we did not have enough to eat," Tiendrébeogo says.

But by using the techniques he learned through ODE, including half moons, Tiendrébeogo was able to increase his yields.

Here's how that works.

To build half moons into a field, Tiendrébeogo (right, shown with farmer Daniel Ramdé) follows these steps.

  1. Find the direction water will flow when it rains.
  2. Draw a 4-meter line. Create a curved line connecting the two ends of the line. The curved side must be downhill from the straight side.
  3. Dig 15 to 30 centimeters (cm) deep in the soil inside the half-moon.
  4. Pile the soil on the edge of the arc at a height of 5 to 10 cm. (For extra support, put rocks on the curved edge.)
  5. Put a pile of organic manure inside the half moon.
  6. Mix the manure into the soil.
  7. Plant seeds in the half moon after it rains.

 

In Burkina Faso, rainfall is erratic, and without techniques like these, rain from a downpour would roll off the parched soil, leaving little nourishment for crops.

But where half moons are dug, the water is held in place, giving it a chance to seep into the soil, where it will better nourish crops.

When Tiendrébeogo first heard about half-moons, he doubted they would work. 

"But through our experience, we are delighted to use the new practices because everything went well and it did not cost any extra money," he says. Farmers don't need chemical inputs because they can use organic fertilizers from their livestock.

In the past, we used to sell food saved for our family to pay for school fees, which sometimes meant we did not have enough to eat."

"Now I teach other farmers these techniques, even those who did not participate in the ODE trainings," he says. 

Half moons aren't the only shape for digging. 

Zai farming techniques, another method promoted through the MCC-supported work, involves digging small circles in a field and establishing plants in that circle. (The name comes from the word zai zai, which in the Moore language of Burkina Faso means "to start the growing season early.")

During the dry season, farmers dig holes about 30 cm wide and 15 to 20 cm deep. Like with the half moons, organic fertilizer is mixed into the holes, which then capture rainwater and nourish plants.

Making shapes in the soil is only part of the picture.

ODE also encouraged farmers like Tiendrébeogo to create a food security plan and to account for their own household consumption. Training on nutrition and food recommendations helped farmers know how much grain to save from a harvest to ensure they have food for their families throughout the year.

The project also urges families to consider adding cash crops to help meet needs like school fees, and ODE also helped set up seed banks so communities can save seeds.

For Tiendrébeogo, that's making a significant difference.

He now saves at least 22 sacks of grain, enough to last his 11 family members for a year. That, along with growing vegetables, has improved nutrition for his family. "We noticed that vegetables help maintain a healthy growth for our children, and that they fall sick less and grow rapidly when eating vegetables," he says.

Selling extra vegetables and growing cash crops like sesame helps to pay school fees.

"Before the project we grew without regard to soil conservation or rainfall irregularities. This resulted in smaller amounts of food after harvest and did not allow us to meet our food needs," he says.

These new practices, from half moon and zai techniques to planning and planting crops differently, brought a solution that Tiendrébeogo can see in the health of his family and in the income he's able to earn.

"Now,  the whole family eats well and we have enough food for everyone."

Want to learn more about MCC's work in Burkina Faso? Check out additional photos and examples from MCC's Fall 2016 A Common Place magazine.

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