Staggered Contour Trench [Afghanistan]

Jerma (Dari)

technologies_1715 - Afghanistan

Completeness: 78%

1. General information

1.2 Contact details of resource persons and institutions involved in the assessment and documentation of the Technology

Key resource person(s)

SLM specialist:
{'additional_translations': {}, 'value': 'Reza Ahmadi', 'user_id': '1657', 'unknown_user': False, 'template': 'raw'}
SLM specialist:
{'additional_translations': {}, 'value': 'Reza Ahmadi', 'user_id': '1657', 'unknown_user': False, 'template': 'raw'}
SLM specialist:
{'additional_translations': {}, 'value': 'Reza Ahmadi', 'user_id': '1657', 'unknown_user': False, 'template': 'raw'}
SLM specialist:
{'additional_translations': {}, 'value': 'Reza Ahmadi', 'user_id': '1657', 'unknown_user': False, 'template': 'raw'}
SLM specialist:
{'additional_translations': {}, 'value': 'Reza Ahmadi', 'user_id': '1657', 'unknown_user': False, 'template': 'raw'}
SLM specialist:

Sirat Aliaver



SLM specialist:

Altaf Jalil



Name of project which facilitated the documentation/ evaluation of the Technology (if relevant)
Sustainable Land Management Project, Bhutan (SLMP) {'additional_translations': {}, 'value': 733, 'label': 'Name of the institution(s) which facilitated the documentation/ evaluation of the Technology (if relevant)', 'text': 'Sustainable Land Management Institute Organistatio (Sustainable Land Management Institute Organistatio) - Afghanistan', 'template': 'raw'} {'additional_translations': {}, 'value': 733, 'label': 'Name of the institution(s) which facilitated the documentation/ evaluation of the Technology (if relevant)', 'text': 'Sustainable Land Management Institute Organistatio (Sustainable Land Management Institute Organistatio) - Afghanistan', 'template': 'raw'} {'additional_translations': {}, 'value': 733, 'label': 'Name of the institution(s) which facilitated the documentation/ evaluation of the Technology (if relevant)', 'text': 'Sustainable Land Management Institute Organistatio (Sustainable Land Management Institute Organistatio) - Afghanistan', 'template': 'raw'}

1.3 Conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT

The compiler and key resource person(s) accept the conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT:


1.5 Reference to Questionnaire(s) on SLM Approaches (documented using WOCAT)

2. Description of the SLM Technology

2.1 Short description of the Technology

Definition of the Technology:

Earthen trenches with soil bunds built along contours in staggered design

2.2 Detailed description of the Technology


The SCTs technology is documented by Sustainable Land Management Project/HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation which is funded by Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), with close support and cooperation of the Agha Khan Foundation (AKF). The staggered Contour Trenches (SCTs) were constructed at a degraded site in Bamyan center (Bamyan province) by Agha Khan Foundation (AKF) project with financial support of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
Totally 1470 contour trenches were constructed at the site, which has an area of 24 hectares.
The size of each trench measured 10 m in length, 0.6 m in width and 0.5 m in depth. The trenches had soil bunds on the lower side having a width of 1 m and height of 0.3 m. Contour lines were prepared using an A-frame and lime and the spacing between two contour lines was 8 m considering the slope. All the trenches were dug out manually. Local people were employed for construction works. Along with the SCTs, other measures were applied such as plantation of fodder grass, shrub and non-fruit trees, gully plugs, water harvesting tanks and brushwood plugs. The area is excluded from grazing and shrub cutting.

The land was extensive grazing land before the project implementation and got extremely degraded due to a lack of management by the land users. There was rampant exploitation of natural vegetation for meeting domestic energy needs and for grazing. Droughts, which frequently occur in the region, contributed to the slow degradation of the vegetation.

Purpose of the Technology: The main purpose of the technology is to reduce flash flood risks and improve land productivity (both upstream and downstream) so that more fodder, fuel wood and fruits could be produced and farmers affected by flash floods could grow more crops. The technology, which is part of a watershed technology system, helps in retaining runoff and sediment and improves soil moisture content. It also helps in water infiltration which eventually contributes to improved ground water recharge.

Establishment / maintenance activities and inputs: SCTs were established in a step-wise manner; as follows: (1) Site surveying, (2) Site mapping, (3) Planning, (4) Marking contour lines with the help of an A-frame, and (5) Trench excavation and bund construction.

The establishment cost for staggered contour trenches, was about 15,500 USD or 645 USD/ha. Most of the money was spent on labour. There have been no expenses in maintenance of SCTs since their establishment in 2008.

Natural / human environment: The technology is applied in semi-arid condition as the area receives annual rainfall of about 400 mm to address land degradation. The site formally belonged to the state but the local communities have use rights. AKF is still maintaining the site and using it for training and demonstration purpose. Several exposure visits for SLM specialist, land users, students and teachers have been also organized at the site.

2.3 Photos of the Technology

2.5 Country/ region/ locations where the Technology has been applied and which are covered by this assessment



Region/ State/ Province:

Zai Mahmood village, Bamyan center, Afghanistan

Specify the spread of the Technology:
  • evenly spread over an area
If precise area is not known, indicate approximate area covered:
  • 0.1-1 km2

Total area covered by the SLM Technology is 0.24 km2.

2.6 Date of implementation

If precise year is not known, indicate approximate date:
  • less than 10 years ago (recently)

2.7 Introduction of the Technology

Specify how the Technology was introduced:
  • through projects/ external interventions

3. Classification of the SLM Technology

3.1 Main purpose(s) of the Technology

  • improve production
  • reduce risk of disasters

3.2 Current land use type(s) where the Technology is applied

Grazing land

Grazing land

Forest/ woodlands

Forest/ woodlands

  • Tree plantation, afforestation

Major land use problems (compiler’s opinion): Flash floods, gully/rill/sheet erosion, loss of natural vegetation and low productivity of the land due to degradation compounded by climatic factors.

Major land use problems (land users’ perception): Declining productivity of land resulting in shortages of fodder and fuel wood and loss of fertile land in the downstream areas due to flash floods.

Grazingland comments: The area is closed for livestock.

Future (final) land use (after implementation of SLM Technology): Forests / woodlands: Fp: Plantations, afforestations

Type of grazing system comments: The area is closed for livestock.

Number of growing seasons per year: 1

Longest growing period in days: 180; Longest growing period from month to month: April to September
Livestock density: 1-10 LU /km2

3.3 Has land use changed due to the implementation of the Technology?

Grazing land

Grazing land

  • Extensive grazing

3.5 SLM group to which the Technology belongs

  • area closure (stop use, support restoration)
  • cross-slope measure
  • ground water management

3.6 SLM measures comprising the Technology

structural measures

structural measures

  • S4: Level ditches, pits

3.7 Main types of land degradation addressed by the Technology

soil erosion by water

soil erosion by water

  • Wt: loss of topsoil/ surface erosion
biological degradation

biological degradation

  • Bc: reduction of vegetation cover
water degradation

water degradation

  • Hs: change in quantity of surface water

Main causes of degradation: deforestation / removal of natural vegetation (incl. forest fires), over-exploitation of vegetation for domestic use, overgrazing

3.8 Prevention, reduction, or restoration of land degradation

Specify the goal of the Technology with regard to land degradation:
  • reduce land degradation

4. Technical specifications, implementation activities, inputs, and costs

4.1 Technical drawing of the Technology

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Technical specifications (related to technical drawing):

A detailed staggered contour trenches layout and its specifications (Fig. 1), and the cross section of soil bunds (Fig. 2)

Location: Bamyan. Bamyan center/Bamyan province

Technical knowledge required for land users: high

Technical knowledge required for SLM specialist: high

Main technical functions: control of dispersed runoff: retain / trap, increase of infiltration, sediment retention / trapping, sediment harvesting, increase of biomass (quantity), promotion of vegetation species and varieties (quality, eg palatable fodder)

Secondary technical functions: reduction of slope length, improvement of ground cover, increase in organic matter, increase / maintain water stored in soil, improvement of water quality, buffering / filtering water, spatial arrangement and diversification of land use

Retention/infiltration ditch/pit, sediment/sand trap
Spacing between structures (m): 8

Bund/ bank: level
Spacing between structures (m): 8
Height of bunds/banks/others (m): 0.5


Adapted from Bertran

4.2 General information regarding the calculation of inputs and costs

Specify how costs and inputs were calculated:
  • per Technology area
Indicate size and area unit:

1 ha

Specify currency used for cost calculations:
  • USD

4.3 Establishment activities

Activity Timing (season)
1. Digging of the contour trenches and construction of the soil bunds
2. Marking contour lines (A frame and lime)

4.4 Costs and inputs needed for establishment

Specify input Unit Quantity Costs per Unit Total costs per input % of costs borne by land users
Labour Digging of the contour trenches and construction of the soil bunds persons/day/ha 100.0 6.43 643.0
Equipment A frame and lime ha 1.0 1.8 1.8
Total costs for establishment of the Technology 644.8
Total costs for establishment of the Technology in USD 644.8

Duration of establishment phase: 4 month(s)

4.5 Maintenance/ recurrent activities

Activity Timing/ frequency
1. No maintenance activities have been implemented for staggered contour trenches and soil bunds up to now.

4.7 Most important factors affecting the costs

Describe the most determinate factors affecting the costs:

Despite the application of the structural measure of the SCTs AKF is still continuing its financial support for the plantation of the area. Thus irrigation which is a costly activity is still continued by AKF's support. The planted saplings of fruit and non-fruit trees are irrigated for six months/year, i.e. from April to September. Water is carried to the site by tankers. Each month, 75 tankers are used and the cost of one tanker is 12 USD or 600 Afghani. In addition, 16 persons are employed for one time irrigation.

5. Natural and human environment

5.1 Climate

Annual rainfall
  • < 250 mm
  • 251-500 mm
  • 501-750 mm
  • 751-1,000 mm
  • 1,001-1,500 mm
  • 1,501-2,000 mm
  • 2,001-3,000 mm
  • 3,001-4,000 mm
  • > 4,000 mm
Specifications/ comments on rainfall:

Bamyan receives heavy snow falls and rain falls in winter season

Agro-climatic zone
  • semi-arid

Thermal climate class: temperate

5.2 Topography

Slopes on average:
  • flat (0-2%)
  • gentle (3-5%)
  • moderate (6-10%)
  • rolling (11-15%)
  • hilly (16-30%)
  • steep (31-60%)
  • very steep (>60%)
  • plateau/plains
  • ridges
  • mountain slopes
  • hill slopes
  • footslopes
  • valley floors
Altitudinal zone:
  • 0-100 m a.s.l.
  • 101-500 m a.s.l.
  • 501-1,000 m a.s.l.
  • 1,001-1,500 m a.s.l.
  • 1,501-2,000 m a.s.l.
  • 2,001-2,500 m a.s.l.
  • 2,501-3,000 m a.s.l.
  • 3,001-4,000 m a.s.l.
  • > 4,000 m a.s.l.

5.3 Soils

Soil depth on average:
  • very shallow (0-20 cm)
  • shallow (21-50 cm)
  • moderately deep (51-80 cm)
  • deep (81-120 cm)
  • very deep (> 120 cm)
Soil texture (topsoil):
  • coarse/ light (sandy)
Topsoil organic matter:
  • low (<1%)
If available, attach full soil description or specify the available information, e.g. soil type, soil PH/ acidity, Cation Exchange Capacity, nitrogen, salinity etc.

Soil fertility is very low - low

Soil drainage / infiltration is oor due to sealing

Soil water storage capacity is low

5.4 Water availability and quality

Ground water table:

> 50 m

Availability of surface water:

poor/ none

Water quality (untreated):

for agricultural use only (irrigation)

5.5 Biodiversity

Species diversity:
  • low

5.6 Characteristics of land users applying the Technology

Market orientation of production system:
  • subsistence (self-supply)
  • mixed (subsistence/ commercial)
Off-farm income:
  • 10-50% of all income
Relative level of wealth:
  • average
Individuals or groups:
  • employee (company, government)
Indicate other relevant characteristics of the land users:

Difference in the involvement of women and men: Mainly men were involved in the activities due to cultural reasons.

Population density: 10-50 persons/km2

Annual population growth: 3% - 4%

100% of the land users are average wealthy.

Off-farm income specification: This is more applicable for poor small landholders or landless families.

5.7 Average area of land used by land users applying the Technology

  • < 0.5 ha
  • 0.5-1 ha
  • 1-2 ha
  • 2-5 ha
  • 5-15 ha
  • 15-50 ha
  • 50-100 ha
  • 100-500 ha
  • 500-1,000 ha
  • 1,000-10,000 ha
  • > 10,000 ha

5.8 Land ownership, land use rights, and water use rights

Land ownership:
  • state
Land use rights:
  • open access (unorganized)
Water use rights:
  • open access (unorganized)

Formally, state owned. The site is now protected from open grazing and shrub cutting with support from the local communities.

5.9 Access to services and infrastructure

employment (e.g. off-farm):
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
roads and transport:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good

6. Impacts and concluding statements

6.1 On-site impacts the Technology has shown

Socio-economic impacts


fodder production


fodder quality


animal production


risk of production failure


product diversity


production area

Comments/ specify:

Decreased production area

Water availability and quality

water availability for livestock

Income and costs

farm income


Socio-cultural impacts

food security/ self-sufficiency


health situation


cultural opportunities

Comments/ specify:

As the site is greener now

recreational opportunities


national institutions

Comments/ specify:

Especially of DAIL (Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock) and the persons who visit the site

SLM/ land degradation knowledge


livelihood and human well-being


Ecological impacts

Water cycle/ runoff

harvesting/ collection of water

Comments/ specify:

Runoff, dew, snow, etc.

surface runoff


groundwater table/ aquifer


soil cover

Biodiversity: vegetation, animals

plant diversity


animal diversity


pest/ disease control

Climate and disaster risk reduction

fire risk


6.2 Off-site impacts the Technology has shown

downstream flooding


downstream siltation


wind transported sediments

Comments/ specify:

Due to better vegetation cover

6.3 Exposure and sensitivity of the Technology to gradual climate change and climate-related extremes/ disasters (as perceived by land users)

Gradual climate change

Gradual climate change
Season increase or decrease How does the Technology cope with it?
annual temperature increase well

Climate-related extremes (disasters)

Meteorological disasters
How does the Technology cope with it?
local windstorm well
Climatological disasters
How does the Technology cope with it?
drought well
Hydrological disasters
How does the Technology cope with it?
general (river) flood not well

Other climate-related consequences

Other climate-related consequences
How does the Technology cope with it?
reduced growing period well

SCT must be combined with vegetation and management measures

6.4 Cost-benefit analysis

How do the benefits compare with the establishment costs (from land users’ perspective)?
Short-term returns:

slightly positive

Long-term returns:

very positive

How do the benefits compare with the maintenance/ recurrent costs (from land users' perspective)?
Short-term returns:


Long-term returns:

very positive


The benefits stated are the combined impacts of all measures-structural, vegetative and management. SCTs have helped in the establishment of vegetative measures by contributing to increased soil moisture, reduced runoff and soil loss.

6.5 Adoption of the Technology

Of all those who have adopted the Technology, how many did so spontaneously, i.e. without receiving any material incentives/ payments?
  • 0-10%

Comments on acceptance with external material support: The whole project activities were implemented by external supports

There is no trend towards spontaneous adoption of the Technology

Comments on adoption trend: As the implementation of a watershed project requires high costs and investments which can not be affordable for the individual land users.

6.7 Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities of the Technology

Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the land user’s view
The land users views were not considered.
Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view
Helps in reducing flash flood risks due to less runoff

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Proper institutional mechanisms, involving the government, non-government and community institutions should be developed for sustaining project activities. Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock DAIL; (Bamyan) should take lead
Conserves soil and enhances soil cover and fertility leading to more on-site production

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Vegetative measures should be strengthened
Complements re-greening efforts by reducing erosion and conserving moisture
The quality of contour trenches and soil bunds are very good and maintenance costs negligible
The site is used for demonstration, training and exposure visits

6.8 Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks of the Technology and ways of overcoming them

Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view How can they be overcome?
Establishment costs are very high Voluntary community contributions, if they have an active stake in the project, would reduce the costs, otherwise, there has to be external support at least for the establishment phase
Loss of land for production Planting suitable plants inside the trenches and along soil bunds
Requires high level of technical knowledge for establishment Practical training for the target groups

7. References and links

7.1 Methods/ sources of information

Links and modules

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