When the project team surveyed 12 random village councils from across the project’s 34, it found that all of them were using better natural resource management practices.
Agricultural production and household income had risen over the course of the project. Communities reported sorghum crop yields that had as much as doubled in some areas serviced by the water spreading weir, which had flooded a large area of land that had not been irrigated in more than a decade.
In 2015, the Seil Gideim weir had buffered the communities serviced by the weir from the effects of a poor rainy season, whose impact was felt more keenly elsewhere.
There were improvements to land quality as well. Aisha describes a widespread problem her village faced before the project, “the appearance of a major gully near my village, caused by soil erosion, meant that our seasonal rains were wasted, rushing down this gully and leaving large areas of good land bone-dry. There came a point where we felt we might have to leave to look for opportunities elsewhere because of a lack of water.”
Within just five months of the weir’s completion, this problematic gully that had formed as a result of poorly planned water development was filled with rich sediment and the soil had been restored.
“We’ve even been able to expand, and in places even diversify the crops we plant, including tobacco, okra, watermelon, and tomatoes. I’m hoping that the government and others in Darfur learn from this weir, and replicate it elsewhere, so that other communities can benefit like we have,” she said.
Keeping the benefits flowing
Development projects and field interventions increasingly place emphasis on ownership by the community that would guarantee the longevity of the project’s effects and impacts. The Wadi El Ku project had longevity built into its heart through its broadly and deeply inclusive process.
The Catchment Management Forum, established by the project and endorsed by government, continues to serve as a platform that brings together government from across sectors and communities to drive action on water resource management in the wadi.
A weir management committee, whose members represent all the villages that benefit from the structure, governs each of the weirs. Ibrahim, the farmer from Zamzam village, sits on this committee.
“We’ve been trained in how to organise ourselves and our affairs, trained on how to troubleshoot and maintain the structure, and we now also have a bank account to collect community contributions for maintenance,” he says.
These contributions were put at 20 Sudanese pounds (about $38) per mukhamas (about 1.8 acres) per year, an amount that almost all community members the project team surveyed said they were willing to pay.
“We now also have a good relationship with the State Ministry of Agriculture, so we feel we can directly engage them for technical support, should our own skills not suffice,” Ibrahim explains.
His village has since been receiving visitors from all over Sudan who come to see how the weir works, and he lights up with pride recalling a visit by the Federal Minister of International Corporation.
“He came to visit us all the way from Khartoum. The Director of Sudan’s Agricultural Renaissance Project also visited us from Khartoum, as well as technical guests from the University of El Fasher,” he says.
“This is the kind of development we need in North Darfur. Not only has the weir helped us increase our yields and protect us from poor rainfall, it has also brought together many villages to manage the and in turn the water. It’s turned water into a connector rather than a divider,” Ibrahim concludes.
It is hoped that the project can be replicated in the wider Wadi El Ku, and in Darfur and Sudan in future, to boost the equitable use of natural resources to reduce conflict and lay the groundwork of peace and stability needed for successful development.
This first phase of the Wadi El Ku Catchment Management Project was funded by the European Union and its implementation was led by UN Environment and Practical Action. The EU has approved €10 million in funding for a second phase. The project directly targets 80,000 smallholder producers and indirectly benefits the 700,000 people dependent on the catchment.