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WOCAT (World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies) network

WOCAT (World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies) is a global network of Soil and Water Conservation (SWC) specialists, contributing to sustainable land management (SLM).

WOCAT’s goal is to prevent and reduce land degradation through SLM technologies and their implementation approaches. The network provides tools that allow SLM specialists to identify fields and needs of action, share their valuable knowledge in land management, that assist them in their search for appropriate SLM technologies and approaches, and that support them in making decisions in the field and at the planning level and in up-scaling identified best practices.

WOCAT was initiated nearly 20 years ago by a concerned group of soil and water conservation professionals who identified the need to counter the prevailing pessimistic view of land degradation. Today WOCAT is a thriving knowledge management hub for Sustainable Land Management (SLM). It has carried out its activities with more than 50 national and regional groups, documenting more than 470 SLM technologies and 230 SLM approaches with training provided to over 500 practitioners in the application of the methods and tools. This portfolio of experience and records makes WOCAT the premier platform of information on land resources and their use (including databases for data storage and retrieval), with direct application to knowledge of soil and water conservation and outstanding potential to help deliver current agendas in sustainable land management, climate change adaptation and climate resilience planning.

WOCAT is a consortium of national and international institutions, led by a core Management Group of CDE, FAO and ISRIC[1]. The Secretariat for WOCAT at the Centre for Development and Environment, Bern, has extensive experience in database and knowledge management for all land-based investments.

[1] CDE: Centre for Development and Environment, University of Bern, Switzerland; FAO: Food and Agricultural Organization, Rome, Italy; ISRIC: World Soil Information Wageningen, The Netherlands

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Technologies from WOCAT (World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies) network


Natural vegetative strips

Natural vegetative strips (NVS) are narrow live barriers comprising naturally occurring grasses and herbs. Contour lines are laid out with an A-frame or through the ‘cow's back method’ (a cow is used to walk across the slope: it tends to follow the contour and this is confirmed when its back is seen to be level). The contours are then pegged to serve as an initial guide to ploughing. The 0.3–0.5 m wide strips are left unploughed to allow vegetation to establish. Runoff flowing down the slope during intense rain is slowed, and infiltrates when it reaches the vegetative strips. Eroded soil collects on and above the strips and natural terraces form over time.
The vegetation on the established NVS needs to be cut back to a height of 5–10 cm: once before planting a crop, and once or twice during the cropping period. The cut material can be incorporated during land preparation, applied to the cropping area as mulch, or used as fodder. NVS constitutes a low-cost technique because no planting material is required and only minimal labour is necessary for establishment and maintenance.
As an option, some farmers plant fruit and timber trees, bananas or pineapples on or above the NVS. The trees and other cash perennials provide an additional source of income.

Improved grazing land

Improved grazing land management is vital to increase food security and alleviate poverty, as well as to bring environmental rewards. To address these problems,
the national Soil and Water Conservation (SWC) rogramme in Ethiopia initiated a grazing land management project in the year 2000. Implementation of the technology includes the initial delineating of the grazing land, and then fencing to exclude open access.
This is followed by land preparation, application of compost (and, if necessary, inorganic fertilizers) to improve soil fertility, then planting of improved local and exotic fodder species, grass as well as legumes. Maintenance activities such as weeding, manuring and replanting ensure proper establishment and persistence. Fodder is cut and carried to stall-fed livestock. Once a year, grass is cut for hay, which is stored to feed animals during the dry season. The overall purpose of the intervention is to improve the productivity of grazing land and control land degradation through the introduction of productive techniques and improved fodder species, which consequently improve livestock production. Commercialization of animals and marketing of their products increases the income of farmers.

Farmer field schools on integrated plant nutrient systems

There are different ways of carrying out agricultural extension. Farmer field schools represent a participatory approach that directly reaches farmers and addresses their day-to-day problems. The concept of farmer field schools builds on the belief that farmers are the main source of knowledge and experience in carrying out farm operations, in contrast to conventional top-down approaches that place most value on scientists’ findings.
It is a group based learning approach, which brings together concepts and method of agro-ecology, experiential education, and community development.
Several consultation meetings and workshops were held at national level to put the integrated nutrient management concept into practice. These meetings led to farmer field schools being recognised as an appropriate approach for putting this concept into practice. The Government of Nepal’s National Fertiliser Policy now recognises integrated plant nutrient systems as a concept to improve the efficient use of different nutrient inputs, and farmer field schools as an appropriate technology and extension approach for soil and plant nutrient management in Nepal.

Training, information and awareness raising

The Cape Verde government initiated in collaboration with its international partners an unprecedented campaign of afforestation. Its main goal consists of fighting desertification and the drought impacts.
Among the specific objectives are reduction of soil erosion, firewood production improvement for rural families, better land production and land user vulnerability mitigation.
To achieve this objective, the Cape Verde government was in need of labour provided by the population, which was easily accepted. With the financial and technical support of the government, municipalities, international projects of rural development (FAO, GTZ, etc.), NGOs (Platforms of Local and National Associations,), the technical assistance of the Rural Development Ministry (MDR) and the help of the local population, nowadays, more than 20% of the surface area of the archipelago is planted with trees. Several steps have been reached:
- the population has been prepared (information, awareness raising and training)
- reconnaissance, topographical surveys and treatments of watershed were carried out where plantations were established
- It was also necessary to import seeds from many countries, to create nurseries, to treat seeds and to train Cape Verde technicians.
The role of the population was to participate in field work, to work in collaboration with the technicians, to operate the nursery and finally to transport the seedlings to the field and plant them.

Composting associated with planting pits

Compost is produced in shallow pits, approximately 20 cm deep and 1.5 m by 3 m wide. During November and December layers of chopped crop residues, animal
dung and ash are heaped, as they become available, up to 1.5 m high and watered. The pile is covered with straw and left to heat up and decompose. After around 15–20 days the compost is turned over into a second pile and watered again. This is repeated up to three times – as long as water is available. Compost
heaps are usually located close to the homestead. Alternatively, compost can be produced in pits which are up to one meter deep. Organic material is filled to
ground level. The pit captures rain water, which makes this method of composting a valuable option in dry areas. The compost is either applied immediately to irrigated gardens, or kept in a dry shaded place for the next sorghum seeding. In the latter case one handful of compost is mixed with loose soil in each planting pit (zai). These pits are dug 60 cm by 60 cm apart. Three to four grains of sorghum are planted in each pit. Compost in the pits both conserves water and supplies nutrients.
The planting pits also help by harvesting runoff water from the microcatchments
between them. Boulgou experiences erratic and variable rainfall with frequent

Better quality farmyard manure through improved decomposition

Farmyard manure – a varying mixture of animal manure, urine, bedding material, fodder residues, and other components – is the most common form of organic manure applied in the midhills of Nepal. Farmyard manure has a high proportion of organic material which nurtures soil organisms and is essential in maintaining an active soil life. The high organic matter content and the active soil life improve or maintain friable soil structures, increase the cation exchange capacity, water holding capacity, and infiltration rate, and reducing the risk of soil pests building up. A prerequisite for the manure having a positive impact on soil fertility is that it is properly decomposed. Decomposition is enhanced and the time it takes to happen is reduced if the manure is kept warm and moist (but not wet) at all times. Heaping the manure up or storing it in a pit helps.

Improved trash lines

Trash lines of organic material across the slope constitute a traditional land husbandry practice in south-west Uganda. Improved trash lines are smaller, closer spaced, and of longer duration than the traditional type. They are more effective in controlling runoff and maintaining soil fertility. All trash lines (improved and traditional) are composed of cereal stover (straw) and weeds that are collected during primary cultivation (hand hoeing), and heaped in strips along the approximate contour.
The recommended spacing between the improved trash lines is 5–10 m, depending on the slope: the steeper the closer. Improved trash lines are left in place for four seasons before they are dug into the soil. Much of the material used has, by this time, decomposed or been eaten by termites. Through incorporation into the topsoil, they improve soil fertility acting effectively as ‘mobile compost strips’. Improved trash lines are multipurpose in retarding dispersed runoff while, as
discussed, maintaining soil fertility. They are a low-cost option for soil and water conservation.

Aloe Vera living barriers

Aloe Vera living barriers - a technique which uses the structure of a cross-slope barrier of Aloe vera to combat soil erosion by decreasing surface wash and increasing infiltration.

Aloe vera is a durable herbaceous plant which is planted in the form of living barriers to recover degraded slopes on the Cape Verde Islands. The plants are closely planted along the contour to build an efficient barrier for retention of eroded sediments and superficial runoff. The living hedges of Aloe vera stabilize the soil, increase soil humidity by improving infiltration and soil structure. Groundwater is recharged indirectly. Soil cover is improved, and thus evaporation and erosion reduced.
Implementation is relatively simple. The contour lines are demarcated using a water level. Seedlings are planted along one line at a distance of 30-50 cm between plants; spacing between the rows varies between 3-5 m according to the slope. On slopes steeper than 30% the living barriers are often combined with stone walls (width 40-50 cm; height 80-90 cm). The plants stabilize the stone risers, making this combined technology one of the most efficient measures for soil erosion control on the Cape Verde Islands.

Vegetated earth-banked terraces

Earth-banked terraces in cereal and almond cropland covered with drought-resistant shrubs.

Earth-banked terraces are constructed by carefully removing a superficial soil layer (~10-20 cm) from one part of a field, concentrating it on the lower end of that field in order to reduce slope gradient and length. Another terrace is created directly downslope to form a cascade of terraces. Stones from the fields can be used to reinforce the terrace ridge.

Terraces reduce the formation of gullies and retain water from upslope. The terrace ridges are optimal locations to plant olives, almonds or fruit trees. Moreover, to be most effective, the terrace ridges are vegetated with shrubs and grasses adapted to semi-arid conditions and with a good surface cover (>~30%) throughout the year. This technology reduces flooding, damage to infrastructure and siltation of water reservoirs, while maintaining (or slightly increasing) crop productivity. This is achieved by reducing runoff, soil erosion and hydraulic connectivity through a decreased slope gradient and an increased vegetation cover. The terrace ridge functions as a sink for runoff within fields and reduces runoff velocity. The vegetation leads to increased soil organic matter content below plants, producing an improved soil structure and a higher infiltration capacity.

Small level bench terraces

Terraces with narrow beds, used for growing tea, coffee, and horticultural crops on hillsides cleared from forests.
The main aim of the terraces is to facilitate cultivation of tea or coffee on sloping land: erosion control is secondary.
After clearing natural and secondary forests by slash and burn, terraces are
constructed by hoe. The width of the bed is 1.0–1.5 m. The length
of each terrace can be up to 25 m. Down the slope, after every 3–4 terraces, there
are lateral drainage channels. Situated at the foot of a riser, each channel has a gradient of 0.5% or less. Excess water – some of which cascades over the terrace risers, with some draining through the soil – is discharged through these channels, generally to natural waterways. Natural grass cover develops on the risers. After harvest (of annual crops), the land is left until immediately before the next rainy season. The terraces at this stage are covered by weeds and grasses. Land is then tilled by hoe. The weeds and grasses are removed and heaped in piles outside the cropped area. They are not composted or used for mulching – and here an opportunity is missed.