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Moisture conserving ability of Zeolite minerals can be exploited to enhance crop and tree production in drought prone areas of Africa.



Expansion of drought is one of the adverse effects of climate change that affects crop and livestock production in many countries of the world especially in Africa. Thus, development and uses of soil moisture conservation technologies is crucial to meeting the challenge. The objectives of this study are to evaluate the ability of Ethiopian zeolite minerals in conserving soil moisture to enhance crop and tree production in moisture stress areas in three African countries including Ethiopia with history of severe drought. This will ultimately increase crop and tree production, contribute to carbon sequestration, decreased risks of crop failure in drought prone areas etc. Zeolites are Alluminio silicate minerals with extensive pores and channels which look like honey comb that enables them to absorb moisture and slowly avail it to growing crops and trees. In this regard, huge deposits of zeolites have been identified in Ethiopia that can be used to conserve soil moisture. Steps in testing this mineral for its ability to conserve soil moisture include experimenting first in the greenhouse by amending soils with different amounts of zeolites to which various moisture regimes will be applied. Then test crops/trees of choices will be planted and all the necessary parameters showing the performance of zeolite amendment will be collected. The resulting data from all participating countries will be analyzed from which the appropriate dose of zeolite that should be applied in different soils for optimum moisture conservation will be known.

The next step will be based on the results from extensive greenhouse experiment; zeolites will be tested in actual fields in drought prone areas of participating countries using different crops and trees of choice as test materials. Protocols for field experiments will be prepared and used by all participating countries. Details for technical and administration aspects of the project are described herein.


Contribution of this project to SDGs and for minimizing tradeoffs

If this project proposal is properly and fully implemented, it will contribute to achievements of SDG1, 2, 6 and 13. It will also greatly narrows or avoid tradeoffs between SD2 and SD6 due to the fact that zeolites are able to the irrigation water requirement per unit areas of land due to its high water conserving ability. Moreover, zeolites have the ability to desalinize salt water so that availability of water crops and forests. Zeolites therefore can be used for expansion of forests in desert areas without affecting agricultural crop lands.


Forest and crop land rehabilitation through sustainable farming and agroforestry. 

What actions do you propose?

Natural Zeolites Minerals: Untapped Resources for Combating Desertification, Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change etc.

Background information and Rationale

Climate change is defined as a change in mean state of climate or in its variability persisting for several decades or longer over ( mainly caused by anthropogenic GHG emissions is now a reality in the world. It has both positive and negative impacts. But the negative impacts of climate change which are manifested as flooding, shift in rainfall pattern, drought, heat wave; increased intensity and frequency of storms etc. is predominant. Climate change is one of the most challenging threats to human kind in this 21stcentury and probably onwards. It is impacting all spheres of developments including social, economic and environmental sectors of the world. Furthermore, it is affecting and changing the course of trade, political and diplomatic relations of the world, influencing the scientific research directions and strategies, international and national development plans and fund allocations so on.

Even if all nations of the world are affected and will be affected by one or more forms of climate change, the impacts of climate change has been disproportionate (Kohlin et al., 2011)and will be more severe in low income tropical and subtropical countries especially sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) (Arndt et al., 2009). The problem is further complicated by fragile environment, dominance of climate sensitive sector in the economic activity and poor adaptive capacity of these countries make them highly vulnerable to harmful effects of climate change impacts. It is severely and negatively impacting agriculture, food security, water resources, infrastructure, human health and ecosystem (World Bank, 2008; Arndt et al., 2010). According to FAO it is estimated that 25-42% of species habitat could be lost in Africa affecting both food and non-food crops. In developing countries, 11% of arable land could be affected by climate change resulting in the reduction of cereals production in about 66 countries.

The world has started to recognize climate change and its impacts more than two decades ago and various initiative, conventions and agreements aimed at addressing climate change challenges used to be developed and approved on global scale (UNFCCC, 1992). Especially, UN has been in the forefront in recognizing the threat of climate change and leading global efforts to tackle climate change challenges. Even if appreciable and encouraging progress has been made in the last two decades to mitigate and adapt to climate change, it was only last December, 2015 in Paris that the whole nations came together and unanimously approved global convention to mitigate climate change.

In line with global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, every nation has designed policies and strategies of its own that will enable it to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Ethiopia is one of the countries of the world which is highly concerned with global climate change challenges and consequently, it has been actively engaged in global negotiations on climate change matters on behalf of itself and on the behalf of Africa. It is also is one of the exemplary countries in the world to develop climate resilient green economy (CRGE) strategy aimed at building carbon neutral green development economy and achieve middle income status by 2025 by taking climate change mitigation and adaptation measures (FDRE, 2012). In this strategy, it is planned to keep annual GHG emission between 150-250 Mt CO2e until 2030 which otherwise estimated to reach 400 Mt CO2e. To realize this target, the plan has four pillars which include adoption of measures that increase the efficiencies of agriculture and lad uses, increasing GHG sequestrations in forest, deployment of renewable energy and clean power generation and uses of appropriate advanced technologies in transport, industry and buildings.

However, the main challenge to enhance adaption and mitigation of climate change impacts through increasing efficiencies of agriculture and land uses; and increasing aforestation (increasing forest cover) in most vulnerable countries including Ethiopia is severe shortage of moisture or water stress. Thus, addressing the deepening moisture stress in dry areas of the world which are continued to be more and more desert due to climate change should be the main or corner stone of the above two strategic pillars of CRGE. To this end there are many alternatives technologies that will increase and conserve water or moist in moisture stress areas of the world. But most of them have technical, cost and applicability limitations. Thus, there is a need to develop alternative, cheap, easy to use and sustainable means of conserving moisture in drought prone or dry area of the world.

Zeolites are one such naturally occurring phylosylicate minerals capable of holding water as much as 60 % of their weights which will be gradually availed to growing plants. They have several pores and channels which look like honey bee comb and they are also negatively charged particles like most clay. It is these two characteristics that enable zeolites to adsorb/absorb water and cations of several types which can be exchanged with materials in the environment any time (Ramesh et al., 2011). It was reported that plant available water in sand amended with zeolite was found to be increased by 50 % (Voroney and van Straaten, 1988). They act as permanent water reservoir and providing prolonged moisture in dry seasons (Ramesh et al, 2015). Uses of zeolites as soil amendments helps to decrease the amount of irrigation water required to be applied per unit area. Zeolites have desalinization properties thus, increases the quality of drinking and irrigation water. It is also important to note that zeolites are highly stable minerals unlike many soil minerals including clay minerals. These once they are applied in to soils they remain for very long period of time with their services (Susana et al., 2015; ). The implication is that once zeolites are applied; there no need to apply them again. Moreover, as they are naturally occurring minerals, uses of zeolites for soil moisture conservation purpose or for any other purpose have no adverse effects on environment. Natural zeolites are very cheap minerals (US$30- US$70/ ton) in the world market ( and technically they are very simple to use for agricultural purposes including for soil moisture conservation. But they have little been used for moisture conservation purpose so far in Africa. Thus, this project aims at testing the effectiveness of Ethiopian zeolite minerals in conserving soil moisture ultimately to be used in dry areas for forest development and increasing agricultural productivity. To achieve this goal the key actions need to be taken are described by sub-headings below.

NB: There are also several types of synthetic zeolites but they are very expensive to use them in agriculture.

Greenhouse and field testing of zeolites for conserving soil moisture

The project activities will be conducted first in the greenhouse involving professionals of relevant discipline in at least three African counties highly prone to draught using different test crops and trees commonly produced in moisture deficient area. Based on the results obtained in the greenhouse experiments conducted in three different countries using different crops and soil types, the field experiment will be conducted to further validate the results of greenhouse experiment. Detail of research protocols (Number of treatments, design, test crops, data to be collected etc) that will be adopted and implemented by participating institutes and countries will be prepared and shared later.

On-farm-demonstration and verification of zeolites for moisture conservation

After testing the effectiveness of zeolites for conserving soil moisture and identifying optimum doses of the material that need to be applied in different soils and for different crops, further demonstration and verification of zeolites on actual farmers’ fields in drought prone areas of participating countries need to be conducted.

To this effect, two plots of land with size 50 x 50 m will be prepared on participating farmers fields and one of the plots will be treated with optimum dose of zeolites and the other will be used as untreated control plot. Then the crop of choice will be planted and monitored. This on-farm experiment will be replicated on at least 10 farmers’ fields in each village and in each participating countries. In the course of the experiment at appropriate time, rural farmers and various stakeholders will be invited to visit the demonstration sites.

Parallel to this, at least 5 ha of land in drought prone areas of participating countries will be selected and demarcated. Then seedlings of trees appropriate to particular area or site will be raised and will be planted on this land by treating the soil with optimum amount of zeolites. Control blocks planted with tree seedlings without zeolite treatments for comparison. The details will be indicated in the protocol later.

Source of Zeolite to be tested for conserving soil moisture

Some 10 years ago or so, huge deposits of zeolites minerals have been identified in different parts of Ethiopia and several million tons of high-grade zeolite deposits (Clinoptilolite and Mordenite) were discovered by geologists of the Ethiopia-Canada Agrogeology project in the central rift valley region of the country (van Straaten, 2002). Thus, to be used in this project and for large scale application for moisture conservation and other purposes, there are sufficient amount of zeolites deposits in Ethiopia and zeolite deposits are also found in many countries of the world.

This being the case, the zeolites will be collected from already known site and processed and dispatched to collaborating institutes and countries in Africa. Moreover, detail of experimental research protocols (Number of treatments, design, test crops, data to be collected etc) that will be adopted and implemented by participating institutes and countries will be prepared and dispatched to them.

Syntheses and uses of results

In course of the experiments, all relevant data will be collected, analysed and interpreted. The final results will be published in Journals, proceedings and policy brief papers. Then strategies for scale up and out of zeolites for their large use for soil moisture conservation purpose in moisture stress areas of Africa and beyond will be designed and implemented.

Who will take these actions and which types of actors are involved?

This project will be conducted in at least three African countries including Ethiopia where drought and moisture stress problems due to climate change impacts or naturally are frequent and high priority development constraint. Hawassa University (HU) will be responsible for overall coordination of the project. The remaining two other African countries will identify national institute or university to host and collaborate with this project.

Major tasks and responsibilities of project coordinating University

As indicated above HU of Ethiopia is envisaged to coordinate this zeolite project. This is due to the fact that the zeolite minerals are available in Ethiopia as well as the project is initiated by Ethiopia. With this in mind, HU will have the following tasks and responsibilities:

  • Develop team of researchers composed of all relevant researchers who will directly involve in the project work.
  •  Communicate and identify institute/University in two other African countries who will involve in the implementation of the project.
  • Develop detail protocol of the greenhouse and field experiments along with team of researchers identified in two other African countries.
  • Process and dispatch zeolite mineral from Ethiopia to project participating countries.
  • Secure grant for the project and administer the budget.
  • Identify relevant national and international stakeholders and share them responsibilities.
  • Develop M & E scheme and implement it accordingly.
  • Arrange cross country visits’ of project sites among participating countries.
  • Prepare progress report of the project and share to relevant bodies.
  • Receive progress report from project participating countries synthesize all the information and give feedback to all concerned bodies

Major tasks and responsibilities of project participating countries of Africa

  • Identify University/Research institute that will participate in this project.
  • The identified University/institute will establish research team composed of relevant professionals for this project.
  • Communicate with project coordination team in Ethiopia.
  • All the teams will develop common experimental protocol for both greenhouse and field experiments.
  • Implement and make follow up of the project.
  • Analyses the data, write report on the finding and share it to all participating teams

Major tasks and responsibilities of governments of project participating countries of Africa

  • Allocate manpower for this job.
  • Avail budget and logistic needed to accomplish the project.
  • Create enabling environment for the project as a whole.

Major tasks and responsibilities of project NGO and UN-IPPCC

  • Make financial support
  • Give technical backstopping in the courses of the implementation of the project
  • Involve in scale up of the project outputs to intended users.

Major tasks and responsibilities of farmers and Pastorals during on-farm experimenting

  • Avail land for verification and demonstration experiment.
  • Participate in all aspects of the experiments.
  • Involve in dissemination and scale up of the technology.



Where will these actions be taken and how could they scale?

Hawassa University which is proposed to coordinate this project is located in southern Ethiopia. Geographically, it is located between 7o N and 38o E. In addition to coordination role, the HU will be conducted greenhouse experiment aimed at determining the moisture holding capacities of Ethiopian zeolites (Clinoptilolite and Modenite).

In the case of Ethiopia, the field demonstrations of zeolites for soil moisture conservation purpose are proposed to be conducted in afar pastoral region of Ethiopia. It is located in the north eastern part of Ethiopia and its part of Great Rift Valley of Africa. Geographically, it is located between 39o34’ -42o28’ E and 8o 49’- 14o30’N.

With regards to climate, Afar is naturally characterized by an arid and semi-arid climate with low and erratic rainfall. Rainfall is bi-modal throughout the region with a mean annual rainfall below 500 mm in the semi-arid western escarpments decreasing to 150 mm in the arid zones to the east. But, since some years back the region is increasingly becoming drought prone area. It is one of the worst affected regions by adverse effects of climate change impacts in Ethiopia and probably in Africa too. In fact this was the main reason for selecting Afar as one of the experimental site in Ethiopia.

Outside Ethiopia, I propose Sudan and Chad due to the fact that they are naturally water stressed countries which are further aggravated by climate change impacts. However, collaborating institutes and experimental locations in these countries will be identified later.

Once the zeolite technology is demonstrated in the actual farmers’ fields, the scale up and scale out work will be done using the existing extension approaches that are increasingly being adopted and exercised in the developing world such farmers’ field school, participatory technology dissemination methods etc. Publishing the findings in Journals, proceedings and policy brief papers, uses of web based social media etc. will also be exploited for the dissemination of the technology around the world.


In addition, specify the countries where these actions will be taken.


Country 2


Country 3


Country 4

No country selected

Country 5

No country selected


What impact will these actions have on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?

Following are the most outstanding benefits of using zeolites for moisture conservation purposes

  • Amending soil with zeolite will increase moisture availability to crops growing in moisture stress areas as a result production and productivity of crops and livestock will be increased in drought prone areas of Africa.
  •  Increased resilience/adaptation of vulnerable societies to drought through increased food and feed availability.
  •  Decreased risk of losing crop and livestock due to water shortage increased feed availability.
  • Decreased  in numbers and frequencies of  human migration due to drought.
  •  Increased forest cover in semi-arid, arid and help to combat desertification, increase carbon sequestration.
  • Increased carbon sequestration due to increasing vegetation cover.
  • Creates job opportunity for youths (zeolite mining, processing  etc.).
  •  Creates investment opportunities for private sectors.
  •  Contribute to overall economy of countries especially to those who have zeolite deposits.

What are the most innovative aspects and main strengths of this approach?

Zeolites are porous minerals endowed with ability to absorb and retain water for long period of time. They hold water as much as 60% of their weight. Thus, amending the soil with zeolites will result in increased conservation of moisture which will be slowly availed to growing plants over long period of time. This property of zeolite has special significance in areas where there is moisture stress and in areas with erratic rainfall distribution as it will greatly increase moisture availability to crops.

Zeolites have special significance for tree seedling establishments in moisture stress areas due to the fact that the problem for growing trees in such areas is lack of water at seedling establishment stage. Thus, amending soil with zeolite during planting of tree seedlings will greatly decrease the risk of seedlings failure. However, they have little been used for moisture conservation purpose. Thus, publicizing zeolites for soil moisture conservation purpose is important and timely. 



What are the proposal’s projected costs?

The following line of budget are briefly described for implementation of this project

  • For greenhouse experiment (Plastic pots, labor, analysis etc.) = US$2000/country X 3 countries = US$6000.00
  • For on-farm demonstration experiment (Labor cost, land rent, land preparation, DLS etc.) = US$20, 000/country/year X 3 countries X 5 years = US$300,000.00
  • For coordination and administration (stationery, communication etc) = US$2000/country/year x 3 countries x 3 years = US$30, 000.00
  • Estimated total budget for one country = US$ 112 000.00
  • Estimated total budget = 108 000.00 X 3 countries = US$360, 000.00

Details of budget line will be done later.

About the Authors

Dr. Wassie Haile Woldeyohannes is currently working as an associate Professor of soils science in college of agriculture, Hawassa University, Ethiopia. He holds PhD degree in soil science from Kastesart University, Thailand.  He has over 25 years of extensive teaching and research experiences in soil science, natural resources management etc. The published more than 20 articles in peer reviewed Journals. He also published more than 15 proceeding and working papers.

Dr. Wassie Haile  also involves in supervision  of graduate students working for their PhD and MSc degrees in disciplines of soil science, agronomy etc., He has experiences in developing and coordinating grant winning research and development projects which had national and international orientations and  serving as consultant in the field of soil science, environmental science so on. He involved in developing the 15 years national soil improvement strategic plan of Ethiopia and he is experience of reviewing manuscripts submitted to diverse journals.


  • Arndt, C.,  S. Robinson and D. Willenbockel. 2010. Ethiopia’s growth prospects in a changing climate: A stochastic generalequilibrium approach. Global Environmental Change 21: 701-710.
  • Arndt, C., H Ahmed, S. Robinson and D. Willenbockel. 2009. Climate change and Ethiopia. Earth and Environmental Science 6:
  • FDRE. 2012. Ethiopia’s Green economy strategy. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
  • Kohlin, G. , M. Alemu and L. Westholm. 2011. Climate change policy in Africa with special reference to Africa. J. Nat. Resour. Policy Res. 3: 63-76.
  • Polat, E., M. Karaca H. Demir and AN. Onus. Use of natural zeolite (clinoptilolite) in agriculture.  J. Fruit and Ornamental Plant Res. 12: 181-189.
  • Ramesh, K., A.K. Biswas and  A. Patrar. Zeolite farming. Indian Journal of Agronomy 60 (2): 185-191
  •   Ramesh, K and DD. Reddy. 2011. Zeolites and their potential uses in agriculture. Advance in Agronomy                            13: 219-241.
  • van Straaten, P 2002. Rocks for Crops: Agrominerals of sub-Saharan Africa. ICRAF, Nairobi, Kenya, 338pp.
  • Voroney, R.P. and van Straaten, P. 1988. Use of natural zeolites in sand root zones for putting greens. Greenmaster Magazine 8: 19.
  • World Bank. 2008. ETHIOPIA; A Country Study on the Economic Impacts of Climate Change. Report No. 46946-ET.
  • Virta, R. L. Zeolite:

What enabling environment would be required in order to implement this proposal?