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Eco-engineering techniques, like bunds, transform barren terrains into thriving ecosystems, showcasing global solutions for land degradation challenges.

In a bid to combat the escalating challenges of land degradation and climate change, ancient eco-engineering techniques are being revisited. One such technique, the use of "bunds," is making a significant impact in restoring degraded landscapes.

Bunds, simple structures that have been in use for millennia, are designed to manage water, either by retaining or repelling it. In Kuku, southern Kenya, these structures have been instrumental in rejuvenating parched and overgrazed lands. A collaboration between the non-profit Justdiggit, the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, and the local Maasai community has led to the creation of over 150,000 bunds, transforming barren landscapes into thriving green pastures.

The power of bunds is not limited to Kenya. In Tanzania, the local community of Pembamoto witnessed a remarkable transformation over three years, where once-degraded lands flourished with greenery, thanks to the strategic placement of bunds.

The community, initially skeptical, was astounded by the results. After allowing the land to remain untouched for two years, the grass grew so tall that it exceeded human height. By August 2021, the community began sustainably harvesting the grass, selling the surplus for community development.

The collaboration between non-profits Justdiggit and the LEAD Foundation in Tanzania is a testament to the potential of bunds. Together, they have engaged local communities in digging tens of thousands of bunds to harvest rainwater, a massive regreening effort supported by the UN.

Angelina Tarimo, a coordinator at the LEAD Foundation, emphasizes the importance of understanding the past to address the present challenges. She recalls how elders spoke of greener pastures and more predictable rain patterns, a stark contrast to the current desertification threats.

Agricultural practices, such as clearing trees and overgrazing, have exacerbated land degradation in Tanzania. However, the introduction of bunds, especially semi-circular ones, has proven effective in trapping rainwater, promoting plant growth, and reversing the drying cycle.

“They were really skeptical about seeing any sort of results, because they’d never seen any grass growing in the area for years,” says Tarimo. But after two years, such was its success they decided to extend the fallow period. Not only did the grass seed grow, but other dormant seeds germinated, and small mammals returned. The greenery spread far beyond the perimeters of the bunds, blanketing the previously degraded landscape.

The global director of communications at Justdiggit, Wessel van Eeden, stresses the importance of disseminating regreening techniques to farmers. With potentially 350 million smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, the low-tech and cost-effective nature of bunds makes them a scalable solution.

The potential of bunds extends beyond Africa, according to CNN. In Northern Ireland, cell bunding, a technique that creates watertight pockets of land, is being explored as a means to restore peatland. Peatland serves as a natural filter for nearly 70% of the drinking water in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Source To Tap project, backed by Northern Ireland Water, aims to determine if restoring peatland using bunds can offer a sustainable solution to improve drinking water quality.

Diane Foster, the project manager, explains that trees planted on peatland can disrupt the natural water filtration process. By removing these trees and introducing cell bunding, the goal is to restore the peatland's natural filtering capabilities. Preliminary results are promising, with the bunding method showing rapid effectiveness.

As the world grapples with the challenges of land degradation and climate change, the humble bund offers a beacon of hope. Whether in the arid landscapes of Africa or the peatlands of Northern Ireland, this ancient eco-engineering technique is proving its worth in the 21st century.

Eunice is a sustainability writer whose passion is sharing accessible eco-friendly practices with GreenCitizen's global readership. She enjoys birdwatching during her downtime, often deriving inspiration from nature's resilience. An enthusiastic cyclist, she is also an ardent advocate of eco-friendly transport.

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