A recent study published in the Trocaire Development Review focuses on three semi-arid districts in Zimbabwe in order to demonstrate the positive effects of conservation agriculture on farmers in developing countries.
Conservation agriculture has been practiced for decades in nations from Canada to India and is now being adapted to meet the needs of small-scale impoverished farmers in Asia, Africa and South America. While conventional farming practices rely on technology and pesticides, the CA method is based on the principles of minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and regular crop rotations to achieve sustainable, profitable harvests. In many developing nations machinery is scarce and farmers find it difficult to plant/harvest in an unstable political climate plagued by malnourishment and poverty. Conservation Agriculture forgoes ploughing in favour of more traditional planting mechanisms such as rippers and basins while relying on residue from previous crops to fertilize the soil. CA also protects against the harsh effects of climate change (drought, flooding) by improving water infiltration into soil which leads to healthier, stronger crops.
On average, according to The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), CA yields are 80% higher than those reaped by traditional methods in developing nations. Each of the participating villages in the Zimbabwe study produced an average yield surplus of approximately 78 MT (metric tons) which shows that poor farmers can increase and stabilise crops in marginal lands under this system.
Challenges to adopting CA methods include reluctance to doing away with the perceived ease of plough technology, weed control, and competition for crop residues. However, dire economic and environmental situation in the world requires that struggling farmers be assisted in finding real sustainable solutions for agriculture issues. I believe that Conservation Agriculture is the first step in a long journey towards success.