Slow Food Gardens in Africa: sustainable water management techniques with terracotta jars  

Draughts and water scarcity are becoming a very present issue in our daily life. Let’s learn from Boujemaa Gueghlan[1] and Amanuel Menna[2] how farmers in Africa have, over the decades, been using terracotta jars as a solution to guarantee the crops a constant amount of water. 

Sourcing water in sustainable ways has always been a key activity when talking about gardens in every area of the world, but it has become an even more pertinent topic in the climate change narrative. Many countries are currently facing unusual water scarcity due to the rising temperatures and garden owners and managers are struggling to find techniques that can help them use their resources in the most effective way possible.  

There are multiple ways of sourcing water that can be implemented depending on the circumstances the gardens are in. Some of these techniques are money consuming (motor and solar pumps, paid water) other are fluctuating (seasonal water bodies, rainfalls) and don’t guarantee a constant amount of water at the disposal of the garden. The percentages vary according to the kind of garden (community or school), but the aggregated data can give us a good understanding on the preferences of African garden managers. 

The water supply in Slow Food’s Gardens in Africa

Through the Monitoring and Evaluation system, collecting data on a rough 10% of the active Slow Food gardens in Africa (358 in 15 countries as by 11/2022, we can determine that almost the totality of gardens rely on rainfalls (95.5%), but they try to integrate this volatile source with techniques that can reduce uncertainties and provide a reliable presence of water. Rainfall harvesting (68.2%), water free of charge (61.2%) and manual lifting (51.2%) are the preferred sources. 

This data tells us that gardens are quite subject to weather conditions and for as much as they try to diversify their water sources, it might not suffice in a changing climate. When rainfall progressively decreases, garden managers have to think about a more “precise” form of irrigation, able to target the area directly surrounding the plant, without wasting precious water without a clear purpose.  

Terracotta jars as tanks

From the data we gathered, we can see that over 20% of the gardens we collected data on, uses terracotta jars as a form of irrigation. One particular water management technique. These jars are buried, filled with water and they slowly release it to the surrounding plants. It is an ancient technique, present in many different cultures all over the African continent. Both our Moroccan and Ethiopian networks provided us with successful stories on the use of terracotta jars. The technique is extremely versatile: it can be used in small family gardens all the way up to large farms. Relatively little labor is required to produce the pots and bury them in the field, and only locally available resources are used. In the SNNPR/Derashe area in Ethiopia for example, the pots are mainly produced by the local women, integrating them in the local rural economy. This makes the method very accessible, sustainable and relatively cheap to implement (jars are sold at around 30ETB ~ €0,5). 

Especially in arid regions this technique has several advantages. In comparison to other irrigation techniques, it saves between 50 and 70% of water. As the pots are buried in the soil, the water does not evaporate, and plant roots can directly draw as much water as they need. Also, the water goes directly to the roots of the plants, which leaves the topsoil dry and prevents most weeds from growing. This means that almost all water directly benefits the intended plants. Boujemaa from Morocco explains us how the selection of pots is an essential step to reach optimal hydration. Every pot serves an area that is approximately three times as big as its diameter and needs to be refilled every five to ten days, depending on the weather and soil. This makes the irrigation easier and less labor intensive.  

From the data we collected we can see that this technique is known and applied in arid areas in several other countries in Africa, such as Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The overall interest in learning more about this technique and its potential concrete applications is therefore extremely high, with a consequential positive impact on the communities living around the gardens.  


[1] Gueghlan Boujemaa is a consultant and trainer in sustainable agriculture at Terre et Humanisme ( He works on several agroecological, permaculture and organic projects with farmers, NGOs, schools and universities. He is the Slow Food Gardens National Coordinator in Morocco. 

[2] Amanuel S. Menna is a veterinarian and passionate activist, who has a great interest in combining gardening and rearing poultry. He is a member of the Derashe Peoples Development Association Ngo and, together with them he promotes the agroecological gardens in Africa as the main way to achieve a food system able to provide delicious and nutritious food for all, happily acting for the change! 


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