VLSA-Amanzi for Food small dams training; 15-16 March 2016

Building of small earth dams for rainwater harvesting and water storage in uncertain weather conditions.-Providing access to water by planting water in the landscape


Lima RDF as the secretariat of the Virtual Livelihoods School; Southern African Chapter (VLSA) in conjunction with Mahlathini Development Foundation has a brief of providing a networking, information sharing and up-skilling platform for NGOs in the livelihoods and food security sector and presently consists of a loose network of around 20 NGOs. The main activities for VLSA-SA are seen to be:

  • Promotion of inclusive food security through the establishment of a community of practice
  • Sharing of knowledge and field experience in the implementation of projects; Joint implementation of projects within a pre-designed systemic framework using an action research approach to enhance innovation and learning and pilot new ideas, processes and methodologies
  • Capacity building; farmer support programmes, creation of sustainable livelihoods and training of trainers and
  • Documentation of best practices for strategic planning and policy processes.

One of the aims is thus to provide learning opportunities for field staff of NGOs and their partnering farmers. The working procedure of the VLS is to set up a community of practice around each of the themes identified which will define the learning and exploration agenda, design the framework for research, set out and implement a learning and mentoring process (at practitioner and community level, implement joint activities and document the process, learnings and outcomes.


The Amanzi for Food initiative set up through support from the Water research Commission by the Environmental Learning Centre at Rhodes University aims at sharing knowledge on the use and conservation of water for agriculture. The focus is on creating access to research and learning materials produced by the WRC for this sector. The Amanzi for Food process has compiled information in accessible forms (short notes, posters and video clips) on a web portal also designed to be used by learning networks that are being set up nationally for accredited learning processes at NQF levels 5 and 6. A training of trainers course is thus part of the process of setting up and working in a network around RWH and water management for food production.

VSLA and Amanzi for Food joined forces to provide a training in small earth dam construction for fieldworkers in the NGO and government sectors as a starting point (albeit jumping in the middle!) for kick starting a water learning and sharing network in KwaZulu Natal.

A two day training was set up in the KZN Midlands and the services of Peter Brill from Jongisizwe Consulting Services in Queenstown were secured, to provide the training.

Day 1: Introduction to construction of small earth dams and ponds

This day of theoretical training and discussions, hosted at Africa Enterprise in PMB, included the following topics:

  • An introduction to Amanzi for Food
  • Planning for small dams; landscape, purpose of the dam, agricultural water use, legal aspects, water requirements and yield estimation of small dams
  • Siting of dams; topography, slope , rainfall, run-off and soils – including simple infield soil tests
  • C:\Users\Kruger\Documents\LIMA\Pics\Small dams training day 1 20160315_001.jpg Dam construction; ), in or off channel, dam type (including hillside dams, charco dams and streambed dams , features of dams (including the wall, core, crest, batter freeboard and spillway)
  • Marking out the sites and
  • Some notes on working with concrete


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Right: Our enthusiastic group of 30 participants from 15 different NGOs and organisations listen to Lawrence Sitsika from Amanzi for Food

Right: Participants get down and dirty analysing four different soil sample types for their suitability in dam construction. The soils were taken form the practical training site in Bergville KZN.



Day 2: Practical implementation of siting and laying out small earth dams

For this day we all relocated to the Amaswazini community outside Bergville to work with the Thuthukani womens’ group supported by Zimele Trust and Mahlathini DF. Here a community garden has been set up and fenced. It is close to a small stream below the garden, but carting water has proven to be too difficult for watering this 0,85ha plot. A small pond- or rather a ‘hole in the ground’ had already been dug as a precursor to this training and partly the training was done here as this hole was not extremely effective.

The training for this day consisted of the following practical components:

  • A walkabout to understand the lay of the land flow of water, slopes, landscape, streambed and run-off from the fields above and the road. Initial assessment of ‘water sources’ for the garden
  • C:\Users\Kruger\Documents\LIMA\Pics\Small dams trianing day 2 Amaswazini 20160316_001_2.jpg Laying out and digging of a diversion ditch to bring run-off water from the road above the garden to the small garden pond
  • Use of a line level to measure contours and slope
  • Digging and lining (with plastic) of a small (4000l) garden pond
  • Demonstration or simulation of building a earth dam wall and
  •  Setting up and use of a treadle foot pump for pumping water from the stream to the garden and or ponds.


Members of the Amaswazi community and NGO fieldworker participants start their dam building day.

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We survey the initial ‘pond’ that had been dug in the garden.

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We lean how to use a line level to measure contours:

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The diversion ditch from the road is being dug to channel water to the garden and the pond:

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Below, the pond has been enlarged and provided with an inlet channel and is being lined with plastic. The plastic needs to be keyed in by digging a ditch and then filling that up with soil to hold the plastic down along the edges of the pond. Above right: We survey the final product – our lined garden pond of around 4000 litre capacity.

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Below, Community members try out the treadle pump which is lifting water around 8 metres from the stream bed and a distance of between 50 and 100m to the garden.

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The training was very successful and all participants felt that they had learnt something useful and practical.

Due to demand another small dams training is to be held at Cedara Agricultural College. The intention is further to set up a longer term agricultural water use and rainwater harvesting training and demonstration process with the college to provide practical skills and a short course in RWH to the learners at a dedicated Food Security site on the campus.

The Amanzi for Food network is now up and running and will be used within the NGOs for further learning. A VLSA process will support the training of trainers process into the future and provide a more comprehensive range of training options in RWH and water and soil conservation to participating organisations and NGOs. Sharing sessions to showcase our work in this regard with our communities will follow and regional processes for participating in the Rhodes University training are to be set up.

Thanks to all for your enthusiasm and dedication!