CONSERVATION FARMING

Conservation Agriculture (CA) is an approach to managing agro-ecosystems for improved and sustained productivity, increased profits and food security while preserving and enhancing the resource base and the environment. CA is characterized by three linked principles, namely:

  1. Continuous minimum mechanical soil disturbance.
  2. Permanent organic soil cover.
  3. Diversification of crop species grown in sequences and/or associations.

CA principles are universally applicable to all agricultural landscapes and land uses with locally adapted practices. CA enhances biodiversity and natural biological processes above and below the ground surface. Soil interventions such as mechanical soil disturbance are reduced to an absolute minimum or avoided, and external inputs such as agrochemicals and plant nutrients of mineral or organic origin are applied optimally and in ways and quantities that do not interfere with, or disrupt, the biological processes.
CA facilitates good agronomy, such as timely operations, and improves overall land husbandry for rainfed and irrigated production. Complemented by other known good practices, including the use of quality seeds, and integrated pest, nutrient, weed and water management, etc., CA is a base for sustainable agricultural production intensification. It opens increased options for integration of production sectors, such as crop-livestock integration and the integration of trees and pastures into agricultural landscapes.

Conservation Agriculture, understood in this way, provides a number of advantages on global, regional, local and farm level:

  • It provides a truly sustainable production system, not only conserving but also enhancing the natural resources and increasing the variety of soil biota, fauna and flora (including wild life) in agricultural production systems without sacrificing yields on high production levels. As CA depends on biological processes to work, it enhances the biodiversity in an agricultural production system on a micro- as well as macro level.
  • No till fields act as a sink for CO2 and conservation farming applied on a global scale could provide a major contribution to control air pollution in general and global warming in particular. Farmers applying this practice could eventually be rewarded with carbon credits.
  • Soil tillage is among all farming operations the single most energy consuming and thus, in mechanized agriculture, air-polluting, operation. By not tilling the soil, farmers can save between 30 and 40% of time, labour and, in mechanized agriculture, fossil fuels as compared to conventional cropping.
  • Soils under CA have very high water infiltration capacities reducing surface runoff and thus soil erosion significantly. This improves the quality of surface water reducing pollution from soil erosion, and enhances groundwater resources. In many areas it has been observed after some years of conservation farming that natural springs that had dried up many years ago, started to flow again. The potential effect of a massive adoption of conservation farming on global water balances is not yet fully recognized.
  • Conservation agriculture is by no means a low output agriculture and allows yields comparable with modern intensive agriculture but in a sustainable way. Yields tend to increase over the years with yield variations decreasing.
  • For the farmer, conservation farming is mostly attractive because it allows a reduction of the production costs, reduction of time and labour, particularly at times of peak demand such as land preparation and planting and in mechanized systems it reduces the costs of investment and maintenance of machinery in the long term.

Disadvantages in the short term might be the high initial costs of specialized planting equipment and the completely new dynamics of a conservation farming system, requiring high management skills and a learning process by the farmer. Long term experience with conservation farming all over the world has shown that conservation farming does not present more or less but different problems to a farmer, all of them capable of being resolved. Particularly in Brazil the area under conservation farming is now growing exponentially having already reached the 10 million hectare mark. Also in North America the concept is widely adopted.

 

Source : FAO