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Zaï Soil Rehabilitation

As featured in the 2010 documentary The Man Who Stopped the Desert, Zaï pits (called Tassa in Niger) are a simple, but effective drylands soil rehabilitation strategy.

A practice indigenous to the arid Sahel strip, they were reintroduced and brought to prominence again in the 1980s by Yacouba Sawadogo, an activist and expert farmer from Burkina Faso. He modified the traditional design into the multi-functional model used today.

Zaï pits deal with the related problems of aridity, erosion, and soil compaction, particularly on difficult-to-cultivate sloped land: crusted land exhibiting these features is locally called “Zippelle.”

During the dry season, pits are dug 15-20cm deep, and 20-50cm wide, and earth from the pits is arranged in a semicircular formation on the lower grade of the slope, to increase water retention. Organic matter such as raw compost, plant matter, or manure is added to the pits, creating a depressed, moist, water-retentive, nutrient-rich cavity in which trees or crops can be planted. 

The raw compost in turn attracts termites, who burrow in the surrounding soil, loosening it to increase water and root penetration, and also digesting the raw organic matter in order to make the nutrients bioavailable to the plants.

Anschuetz et al. (2003)

Roose and Rodriguez (1990)

The World Bank reports that if done properly, this technique increase yields by 500%. [1] Combined with agroforestry strategies, like the planting of leguminous trees (traditionally, Acacia: see the “Great Green Wall”), it has the potential to reverse further soil erosion, compaction, desertification along the border of the Sahara.

Images: The Man Who Stopped the Desert, Chris Reij

h/t to ultrafacts

#soil science #arid #agroforestry #Africa


Real carved human skulls $2,295-$3,200. There is no federal law restricting the buying and selling of human bones in the United States; you don’t even need papers or a permit. However, there are laws protecting archaeological artifacts and Native American bones. Georgia, New York, and Tennessee prohibit imports and exports of human bones across state lines, with some exceptions for medical research and education. Other regional laws may apply. 

Save the Honeybee, Sterilize the Earth            

By Josh Dzieza  

A decade ago, people started panicking about the collapse of the honeybee population and the crash of our food supply. But today there are more honeybees than there were then. We have engineered our way to a frenzied and precarious new normal.

For the past seven years, as has been widely reported, honeybees have been dying at an alarming rate. Yet today there are slightly more hives in the [USA] than before the die-offs began. That’s because beekeeping [operations] have moved beyond panic and begun quietly adjusting to a strenuous way of doing business, one that requires constant monitoring, treatment, supplemental feeding, rapid replacement of dead hives, and grudging participation in an agricultural system that grows increasingly inhospitable to the bees it needs to survive. […]

For the vast majority of their history, beekeepers moved their bees in order to make more honey, not to pollinate crops. In fact, pollination itself is a phenomenon few farmers understood until relatively recently. As late as the 1880s, some farmers banished beekeepers from the their farms, believing that bees robbed pollen and killed fruit. It’s a forgivable misunderstanding. The farmers didn’t realize that the bees had evolved to be messy eaters, carrying pollen grains on their fur. And with swarms of native bumblebees, orchard bees, and feral honeybees always around, fruit happened with beekeepers or without. In a natural ecosystem, or even a small multi-crop farm, there were always enough plants in bloom at any given time to sustain a resident population of pollinators.

But when farmers began planting larger plots with one crop, the natural balance of pollination was distorted. A monoculture, as it’s called, can’t sustain all the wild insects it needs to pollinate it, because there’s nothing for the insects to eat when the main crop isn’t in bloom. Monoculture farmers noticed that their trees would flower abundantly yet produce hardly any fruit, which led to the discovery that many fruit trees are self-sterile: To produce, they need to be planted in mixed varieties, and they need insects to ferry pollen from one variety to another.

Honeybees provided a convenient solution. Whereas many bees native to North America are solitary, fly only a few hundred feet to forage, and have evolved to pollinate a single plant species, honeybees are opportunistic eaters, fly more than two miles, and live in resilient, easily transported hives. By the early 20th century, farmers were signing occasional contracts with local beekeepers to pollinate orchards. In 1918, the naturalist John Harvey Lovell concluded that “the fruit-culture of the future must be largely dependent on the domestic bee, the only agency in crossing which can be controlled by man.”

The dramatic transformation of our relationship with the honeybee, however, began in the years following World War II, as the mechanization of agriculture drastically increased the size of the nation’s farms and the use of pesticides exploded. This marked the decline of many remaining wild pollinators, and the beginning of the honeybee’s shift from a semi-domesticated producer of honey to a living tool integral to industrial agriculture. In the past several decades migratory pollination has only become a bigger portion of the beekeeping industry, surpassing revenues from honey sales sometime around 2007. The economic shift from honey to pollination was a long time coming, but two things finally tipped the balance…

Read more

Article source: PSMag

Images: Illustration by Tom Cocotos; Photos by Max Whittaker/Prime

h/t to plantyhamchuk

#bees #pollinators #pollination #agriculture #orchard culture #economics

my friend's assessment of That Capitalism Post

or as she so eloquently titled it, Ramblings from Someone who May or May Not Understand Econ (and citing Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan):

"The argument that capitalism requires people to be poor so as to fill up the "distasteful" jobs of modern society is very appealing, but fundamentally wrong from an economic perspective.

It comes down to the idea of opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is the foregone benefits of alternative choices. For example, you have to decide whether or not to stay home and study or go and watch a movie. If you study, the opportunity cost is watching the movie, and vice versa.

In the real world, salary is a reflection of opportunity cost. The opportunity cost of working at one job is the potential earnings of another job. So, in order to attract people to work for you, you must offer them a salary that is greater than their potential salary in another job.

Currently, there is a lot of inequality in education, which could be broadly categorized as human capital. Those with low human capital work jobs that require less of it, such as janitors and so forth. These janitors and people who do other “dirty” work are not paid very much because their opportunity cost is low. They do not command skills that would get them paid more in another job, and their current salary reflects that. But the question comes when everyone is a millionaire or everyone has high human capital (e.g. everyone has a PhD), then who will clean our toilets?!

The answer is actually really simple. You pay the toilet cleaner relative to his or her opportunity cost. If he or she can easily command a high paying job with his/her skill set, then just pay him/her a higher salary (to make up for the opportunity cost and maybe a little extra to get over his/her reservation about cleaning toilets) and he/she will clean the toilet (assuming this person is a completely rational actor that only cares about maximizing budget). In this world where everyone is a millionaire, the toilet cleaner might be the one commanding the highest wage!

This sounds ridiculous, but a lot of jobs work this way. Plumbers and other people who have dirty jobs command a higher salary than you imagine. This is because plumbing requires skill, but also because not a lot of people wish to be plumbers and thus the salary needs to be high to attract people to the profession. This goes into another concept of reservation wage, which we will not cover today.

In short, capitalism does not need a “lower class” of people to do the “distasteful” jobs. If wage is flexible, it will adjust itself so that all demands of the market are met. There will always be people willing to work if the price is right, and these people do not need to be the lower class.”

(this is in response to this post)