Irrigation with buried clay jars: an ancestral technique for sustainable agriculture

Buried clay jar irrigation, an ancient technique, conserves water and improves crop yields in arid regions. It delivers moisture directly to roots, reducing evaporation, weed growth, and runoff, while enhancing soil health and accessibility for small farmers.

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Photo: INRGREF

In the arid and semi-arid regions of Tunisia, an ancient agricultural technique is being rediscovered as a sustainable solution for managing limited water resources and enhancing agricultural productivity. This method, known as buried clay jar irrigation, offers a promising way to conserve water and improve harvests in challenging environments.

What is clay jar irrigation?

Clay jar irrigation involves burying porous clay jars near plants and filling them with water. The water slowly seeps through the walls of the jars, providing consistent and even moisture directly to the plant roots. This method is especially suited to arid regions where rapid evaporation and surface runoff can make other irrigation techniques ineffective.

To implement the clay jar irrigation technique, the process begins with soil preparation, during which the clay jars are buried up to their necks, leaving the openings accessible at the surface. Once the jars are securely in place, they are filled with water. The porous nature of the clay allows the water to seep out slowly and evenly, ensuring a gradual and consistent distribution of moisture. This gradual release ensures that plant roots receive a constant supply of water, effectively minimising wastage. To maintain the necessary humidity levels for the crops, the jars must be regularly refilled with water.

Benefits of irrigation with buried clay jars

The use of buried clay jars for irrigation offers numerous advantages, particularly in water-scarce regions. Firstly, this method is highly water-efficient. It significantly reduces water loss through evaporation and runoff, using up to 70% less water than traditional irrigation systems. Additionally, the technique ensures that water is delivered directly to the roots of plants, which improves irrigation efficiency and promotes healthy plant growth.

Another notable benefit is weed reduction. Since the water is provided directly to the crop plants, it limits the growth of weeds that typically thrive with surface irrigation methods. Moreover, clay jars are both simple to make and easy to use, making this method an accessible solution for small farmers in rural areas.

Photo: INRGREF

Finally, by maintaining consistent moisture levels, this technique helps improve soil quality. It prevents erosion and encourages the formation of organic matter, thereby promoting overall soil health.

Implementing the clay jar technique

The use of buried clay jars is particularly effective in vegetable gardens, orchards, and small farms. It has been successfully applied to a variety of crops, including vegetables, fruits, and medicinal plants. To optimise this technique, it is crucial to choose high-quality clay pots with adequate porosity to ensure optimal water infiltration. Regular inspection and maintenance of the pots are necessary to prevent blockages and leaks.

Reviving the ancient practice of buried clay jar irrigation not only offers a sustainable approach to agriculture in arid regions but also highlights the importance of integrating traditional knowledge with modern practices to address contemporary environmental challenges.

This article was originally written by:
Samir Ghannem, Sondes Fkiri, Sarra Ghariani, Mohamed Tahar Elaieb
National Research Institute of Rural Engineering, Water and Forests – Tunisia (INRGREF)

SOURCENational Research Institute of Rural Engineering, Water and Forests – Tunisia (INRGREF)
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ResAlliance
ResAlliance ("Landscape resilience knowledge alliance for agriculture and forestry in the Mediterranean basin") is a thematic network project funded by the European Union's Horizon Europe Programme. The aim of the project is to provide foresters and farmers with the knowledge and tools needed to implement innovative landscape resilience solutions in the Mediterranean.