From walking for hours to find and collect dirty water, to having lifelong nearby access to clean water (and all the benefits and security that come with it) - that is the kind of transformational impact sand dams can provide...

Drylands are a vast and important part of the world. They cover over 40% of the earth’s land surface, account for over half of all farmland, are major wildlife habitats and support over 70% of the world's poor; most of these live in rural areas, where water poverty has reduced peoples’ lives to a continuous, daily struggle of trying to secure enough water for themselves and their families.

Not having daily access to clean water causes endless suffering for those living in dryland areas for a myriad of reasons. For example, good health and safe hygiene levels are unattainable as communities need to walk for hours every day to fetch unclean water, from which they often contract waterborne diseases. And it is women and children who are typically most heavily burdened with the task of fetching water in these regions, resulting in some children missing school and women being put in the vulnerable position of walking in the dark, heavily pregnant or on dangerous terrain.

One activity that is particularly affected by a lack of access to water is farming and food production. As this is one of only a small number of enterprises available to workers in rural areas, it hinders much of the economic opportunities in local communities.

However, one of the most cost-effective methods of overcoming water poverty is to build sand dams in the affected areas.

Watch how sand dams work here:


Excellent Development has been supporting some of the poorest overseas dryland communities to build sand dams since 2002. Our ethos is to support people to transform their own lives through water and soil conservation and investing in sustainable agriculture. Current programmes are located in southeast Kenya (Ukambani), northern Kenya (Northern Rangelands), Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and we have previously supported projects in India, Chad, Tanzania, Swaziland and Sudan (with ambitions to start further sand dam projects in Tanzania and Malawi).

For over 16 years, Excellent have supported the construction of more than 1,000 sand dams. And in 2018, we reached our millionth beneficiary of sand dams. But not one of them would have been possible without the wholehearted commitment of local people. They build their sand dams. They dig their terraces. They plant their trees. Working with local partners, for example the Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF) in southeast Kenya, the communities are provided with vital materials, training, guidance and support in sustainable farming practice, sharing proven knowledge and suggesting techniques to maximise food production.

One way we are fulfilling our objective of helping people to help themselves in Kenya is by supporting self-help groups (SHG) in the communities they work in. The members of each SHG take part in various projects that are supported by Excellent and ASDF. Mutethya SHG, for example, is a group of farmers in southeast Kenya who have been working together since 2008. Thanks to their sand dam projects, they have now gained enough skills and knowledge to become a fully independently-run group.

David Mutie Mulinge, a 68-year-old farmer and group secretary for Mutethya, said his enthusiasm for the programme prompted his keen involvement in it since its formation. He says, “I wanted to be part of the team that changes the village in a positive way in terms of the development projects that we engage in.” He aimed to find a solution to the current state of fiscal affairs and see “increased incomes from different enterprises.”

Listening to him and his wife, Monica (pictured above, right), aged 61, speak of the changes they have seen their village undergo over the last 10 years, it is clear that their initial hopes have become a reality. Increased water accessibility that comes as a result of implementing a sand dam has boosted their income streams significantly. One example of this is they can grow crops they were unable to before (ones that are drought-resistant and promise a successful harvest) thanks to support from Excellent and ASDF. They are also given seeds for planting every rainy season which, David explains, “cushions us from some exploitative traders who flock markets with fake seeds which were sold at high prices.” Farmers have also been taken through a range of training exercises, with particular focus on digging terraces and the establishment and management of tree nurseries.

“I wanted to be part of the team that changes the village in a positive way in terms of the development projects that we engage in.”

David Mutie Mulinge, Secretary of Mutethya self-help group, southeast Kenya.

The results of the harvest have been remarkable. David says, “There is a mixture of green grams, pigeon peas and some of the members have also planted cowpeas and sorghum. There is a range of trees that they have planted. Some of them are fruit trees like mangos and papaya. Apart from that there are also medicinal trees like Moringa and then they also have trees made for shade and at the same time they produce some food.” David explains that, as a result of this in his case, “you can make up to 10,000 Kenyan shillings from one crop per season.”

The money farmers make from their livestock has also increased. David says, “(Excellent Development and ASDF) have also given us improved goats. Initially, we had local goats which were not very productive, but now we have migrated into breeding gala goats, it’s an improved goat breed which does very well in this type of climate, so they breed pretty fast and they also fetch a lot of money compared to the local breeds in the market.”

These increased income streams have helped pave the way towards a money borrowing system called table banking. This works by SHG members holding regular meetings whereby everyone puts a certain amount of money into a kitty, which grows funds over time that are immediately available to be borrowed at a small rate of interest. Mutethya started with 27 members who contributed 100 Kenyan shillings a week and the value of this has now accumulated into over 400,000 Kenyan shillings. Borrowing is not limited to farming activities and can be utilised for anything a member requires, such as school fees, uniforms, medicines, family emergencies etc.

One of the biggest changes Monica and David have realised is the attitude of people in the community. Having the time and resources to embrace new opportunities has inspired an attitude of initiative and the sense of pride in what the group have achieved is abundant. David says, “They share ideas and they can learn from each other and the different ways of tackling different problems, their ability to borrow different ideas from different people also makes me happy, it makes me proud.”

David, Monica and Mutethya are a fantastic example of the remarkable, transformational power of sand dams, and the climate-smart agriculture projects made possible thanks to lifelong, nearby access to safe water that the sand dams bring.  Such transformation has freed the villagers from the devastating effects of poverty and the daily struggle they knew before.

Could you help more people to break free from poverty by supporting them to build sand dams and carry out climate-smart farming, so they have enough water to drink and food to eat? Please donate what you can.

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