Cahora & Tete

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Securing the future with sand dams

Securing the future with sand dams

Securing the future with sand dams

As a native of the United States’ Pacific Northwest, a region known for its incessant rains and verdant vistas, my 2009 relocation to one of the hottest and driest regions in Southern Africa was a rather startling experience.

I’ve spent the past three years based in Tete, partnering with the Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM) and rural communities to develop water and food security solutions for drought-prone areas marked by chronic hunger. To this point, our work has primarily centered on the construction of sand dams, a unique, subsurface structure used to capture and store water in seasonal rivers, along with subsequent conservation agriculture trainings and garden projects. My colleagues and I have joined with communities to build 37 dams so far, between Tete and the neighboring Manica Province, enabling many hundreds of families to produce vegetables locally during the region’s cooler dry season, and many thousands to water their animals and fetch water for domestic use throughout the year.

While plenty of mistakes have been made in the past years, and many hard lessons learned, I’m incredibly excited about the changes happening in Tete these days. As seems to be the case with most development work, the biggest obstacles to long-term results have been the deep-seated beliefs and attitudes held by the local stakeholders – rural farmers, the government, CCM, and myself – but I’ve seen significant, positive shifts in all of us. Communities are now approaching us to initiate new partnerships, the local government has become a strong supporter of our work, and the individual projects started in Tete and Manica Provinces have resulted in the creation of a national water and food security program (ASA) with big plans to expand to new regions of the country.

As a water engineer passionate about appropriate, sustainable development, it’s been a joy and a privilege to work in Tete. I still haven’t gotten used to the heat, I’ll admit, as my cold weather roots run deep, but the friendships I’ve formed with a fantastically-diverse group of people, and the incredible transformations I’ve witnessed in so many communities, have impacted me deeply.

I’ll be finishing up my contract soon, and heading back to the States, but, as my friends often remind me, Africa is in my blood now, and it will be very, very difficult to stay away.

The Technical Stuff:
Sand Dams are barriers typically constructed from reinforced concrete or stonemasonry across seasonal sand rivers. They collect and retain water and sand, creating permanent or semi-permanent aquifers and water sources for people, animals and small-scale agriculture. Learn more at <>.

Conservation Agriculture is an agricultural production system known by a variety of names, initially developed in the late 1980s in Zimbabwe by Brian Oldrieve, who termed it “Farming God’s Way”. The system emphasizes various techniques for soil and water conservation, and is especially appropriate for small shareholders. 

Learn more at

To learn more about CCM’s water and food security work in Mozambique, contact the national program coordinator at
Past CCM food security projects in Tete and Manica were funded by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

Jon’s work is supported by the Mennonite Central Committee.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 09, June 2012)

Read more about the region in our destination guide:
Cahora Bassa & Tete