Conservation agriculture draws on locally produced technologies to increase productivity while using fewer resources

ICARDA
Published: 02 March 2021
Last edited: 02 March 2021
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Summary

If properly managed, conservation agriculture is generally a "win-win" situation for both farmers and the environment. Conservation agriculture often associated with livestock or local technologies such as zero-tillage seeders, enhances crop productivity, improves resource-use efficiency and soil health. As an alternative to conventional tillage (CT) for rainfed drylands, it avoids soil tillage, saves time and labour and conserves water and nutrients in the soil to make crop production more resilient to climate change.

Classifications

Region
Central America
East and South Africa
North Africa
North and Central Asia
South America
West and South Europe
Scale of implementation
Global
Ecosystem
Agro-ecosystem
Cropland
Desert ecosystems
Hot desert
Rangeland / Pasture
Theme
Adaptation
Agriculture
Erosion prevention
Food security
Land management
Mitigation
Restoration
Science and research
Challenges
Desertification
Drought
Erratic rainfall
Extreme heat
Floods
Increasing temperatures
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Shift of seasons
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Erosion
Ecosystem loss
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of infrastructure
Lack of food security
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals

Location

Tunisia | Bolivia, Nicaragua, Algeria, Mexico, Jordan, Tunisia

Challenges

Climate change, erratic environmental conditions and population growth put pressure on agricultural systems. As a result of overexploitation to meet demand, soils are impoverished, which reduces productivity. This is particularly true in low- and middle-income countries in North Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, where rural people are highly vulnerable to unpredictable and variable rainfall. The increased frequency of droughts and extreme weather events, as well as changing food demands and preferences, further impact crop production and degrade biomass. Conservation agriculture can address these challenges. Used by a majority of farmers in Australia and Brazil, and by many in North America and other middle- and high-income countries, the solution has the potential to improve food security and preserve natural resources in dryland agro-ecosystems in Central and West Asia, the Middle East, and in North and sub-Saharan Africa.

Beneficiaries

The land users and farmers are the destined beneficiaries of this solution.

How do the building blocks interact?

Conservation agriculture and related training to this practice help minimize the disturbance of the soil, keeping crop residues to maintain soil cover and crop rotation whilst the local-based machinery zero tillage helps compliment the positive impact related to the practice like a complementary solution complementing the core solution. The designed technology uses local inputs and mechanical skills to expand markets for repairs and technical services and create local jobs. As witnessed, farmers switching to conservation farming need chemical help to control weed, which could be economically less profitable for them therefore developing local jobs related to machinery related to conservation can help balance this bottleneck. Training involving farmers are empowering them to develop local markets and machinery that complement conservation agricultural practices. 

Impacts

  • Zero-tillage seeder: Compared to imported machines, the seeders designed by local farmers produce similar yields but feature more sowing adjustability and a higher germination rate.
  • Increased yields: In Jordan, where wheat production is often constrained by prolonged drought, farmers in Irbid experienced average wheat yields that were 16 per cent higher than those achieved under conventional practices, generating net returns of US$296 per hectare.
  • Government support: After trials demonstrated a 19 per cent increase in wheat yields, Moroccan policymakers are including conservation agriculture in a national effort to reverse falling agricultural productivity and to stabilize yields.
  • Local job creation: The farmer-designed technology associated with conservation agriculture uses locally available parts and mechanical skills, creating jobs by expanding the market for repairs and technical services. 
  • Trainings: Nearly 1,200 women farmers and 600 young farmers were reached in Latin America and the Near East and North Africa region.
  • Cost-effective: Conservation agriculture reduces inputs and workloads for farmers.

Story

The land users that have adopted Conservation Agriculture (CA) have indicated that they extremely appreciate the reduction in work also the cost of labour and fuel. Adnen Abdrabbou’s in Tunisia parted with traditional farming systems. He began practising CA instead. He opened up his farm for onsite CA trials to ICARDA and three national agricultural institutes – l’Institut National de Recherche Agronomique de Tunis, l’Institut National des Grandes Cultures, and l’Ecole Supérieure d'Agriculture du Kef. For Abdrabbou, the institutes’ involvement provided confidence, and he became the first Tunisian farmer to pioneer the technique. One of the trials has lasted two decades, making it the most well-known on-farm trial of CA in the country.

“As farmers, we borrow the land for a short time, and we are responsible for taking care of it until we hand it over to our children and their children,” he said. 

Contributed by

ICARDA Solutions