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Chapter 4
Enabling community-based projects

Changing from current farming practices to more sustainable practices is a gradual process. A phased approach can start with the easier changes, to minimise risks and spread investments. It should allow farmers to develop gradually the required skills before tackling the more complex changes. In this transition process, the following phases can be distinguished:

In the course of these three phases, the changes increase in size, impact and complexity. Fine-tuning and readjustment of farming technologies may involve some repetition of the phases.

Improving land husbandry starts from a thorough understanding of the current situation of which only the farmers themselves have an intimate knowledge. That is why they have to be the architects of change from the outset and during the transition process, and even further in order to make sure that the new system is sustainable:

No single improved practice is likely to solve land degradation problems. A conjunction of improvements is needed in the agricultural system, taking account of the temporal and spatial changes between seasons and from year to year, as well as the complex interactions between species and within the ecosystem, and the farm families' situation. The principal focus must be on the farmers rather than on the land alone, as they are the ones who make the ultimate decisions on land use and management.

Appropriate scenarios for conservation agriculture

For example, in Kenya and Malawi, farmers are looking for ways to improve soil fertility that reduce the need for fertilizers, but are also competitive in terms of production per hectare and economic benefits. For the time being, the solutions proposed rely on the use of green manure and improved fallow, with the incorporation of residues. These practices must be considered as a first step. At the moment, research and extension services are promoting conservation agriculture practices only among resource-poor farmers, and the advantages are not yet recognized by the wealthy.

For a country such as Malawi, where farmers do not have enough land for leguminous fallows, nor enough cash to apply high rates of inorganic fertilizers, a combination of lesser amounts of both may be the way forward. The adoption of conservation agriculture/zero tillage practices reduces labour requirements and improves the effectiveness of the organic material that is added. In this process of change, farmers have to be supported through an integrated and participatory approach. In Guaymango (El Salvador), an intensive programme designed to develop conservation agriculture allowed farmers to increase yields (Figure 4).

Figure 4

Yield of maize-sorghum system in Guaymango, 1963 - 1989 (adapted from Calderón et al. 1991)

Designing community-based projects: tools and practices

The Participatory Technology Development (PTD) approach (Veldhuizen et al., 1997) enhances the interaction between land users, external organizations and individuals in improving the use of natural resources in a sustainable way. PTD is designed to stimulate local innovation and experimentation to improve the practices by building on local knowledge.

It is a process of joint learning that aims at developing appropriate land use technologies for the present, and strengthening the capacity of the land users to adapt to changing conditions in future. It is designed to include the concerns and increase the capacities of all groups, in particular of those who may be disadvantaged in access to resources (women, youth, ethnic or cultural minorities, poor, migrants, etc.).

Plate 19

Discussing and thinking about the future, and planning together

[A.J. Bot]

The word "technology" is used in a broad sense to mean ways and means of doing things: in this case, of achieving sustainable uses of land through conservation agriculture. This may involve an improvement in cultivation techniques, tools and equipment, mixtures of plant species, livestock feeding regimes, forms of social organization (e.g. agreements on use of resources such as cutting of grass and branches from enclosures for livestock feed). PTD involves:

BOX 25: Supporting farmers' land literacy (Zimbabwe)

For many years conventional extension in Zimbabwe emphasised oral communication, assuming most farmers to be illiterate. Demonstration of standardised techniques was central to conventional extension, but perpetuated farmer dependence on outsiders' solutions. Various tools have been developed to stimulate group exploration, discovery and learning, including:

  • glass boxes with simulated soil profiles;
  • soil boxes with for example bare, ridged and mulched surfaces watered with a watering can, with runoff captured in beakers at the bottom of the slope (Plate 21);
  • encouraging the use of imaginative language to describe events such as ploughing, erosion, etc.;
  • think tanks;
  • simple paired design experiments;
  • competitions for the best idea;
  • sharing at field days, farmer evaluations, exposure visits and workshops.

These participatory extension and research tools have been found to be highly effective in enhancing self-analysis, farmers' understanding of land husbandry, and the dynamics of the environment. As a result of this capacity building process - which farmers call "the school of trying" (Chikoro che kuturaya) - farmers develop their own integrated land husbandry approaches (Chuma et al. 2000).

Plate 20

Farmer explaining to his neighbours the functioning of a new implement

[A. Calegari]

Plate 21

Imitation of the erosive effect of rainfall on bare soil and on a soil covered with residues

(V. Hercilio de Freitas)

Farmer innovators, farmers who have developed or are testing new ways of land husbandry on their own initiative, are a key part of the PTD process. The innovations may be related to crop production or livestock, and may be simple cultural measures or sophisticated structural designs, combining production with soil conservation. They may be ongoing experiments or already established and applied. Several innovations have been identified during the last two years. Technically the innovations can be categorised as practices aimed at water (and soil) harvesting, organic matter management, gully control, small-scale irrigation, drainage, forestry, tool making, livestock management, agronomic practices, indigenous pesticides, etc.

Two innovations which are of interest in the context of conservation agriculture and on which there are already research data are trash lines and banana mulching in Uganda (Box 26).

BOX 26: Trash lines and banana mulching: farmers' innovations (Uganda)

  • Unlike the common practice in other parts of Africa where trash lines are built every year as a basis for more permanent terrace bunds, the trash lines in south-west Uganda, built along the contour, are kept in place for two or three seasons and then dug into the soil as compost. These trash lines are more than just structures to slow down runoff or stop erosion; they also function as mobile compost strips to improve soil fertility.

    A survey during three growing seasons showed clear increases in organic matter contents, water retention and moisture in the soil above and around the lines. Disadvantages mentioned by farmers include alternative uses of the trash and the fact that trash lines tend to hide rats and can act as pools for weed seeds. A better effect could be obtained when this trash would be distributed over the soil surface; then soil moisture levels would rise throughout the field.

  • Cooking bananas provide the main staple food of the region (matooke) and therefore all efforts are made to keep them productive for the longest time possible. As the region is a bit too dry for banana growing, one of the practices is to mulch the banana plants (Plate 22). All kinds of materials are used, such as banana trash, residues from sorghum and bean crops, grass cuttings. The amount of mulch applied can be as high as 40 tons fresh weight per year.

    The most important results from on-farm research indicate that the mulch application rate had significant effect on yields. The amount of mulch was more important than the type of mulch applied mainly for keeping moisture in the soil, less importantly for returning nutrients to the soil. Mulching with banana trash gave the best returns to labour, as collecting and carrying other mulches requires more labour.

(Critchley, 1998)

Plate 22

Banana mulching, a common practice to prevent soil moisture to evaporate and keeping the bananas productive for a longer period

[J.R. Benites]

In all cases, farmers need indicators that help them assess how their farm productivity and livelihoods are changing and what might help to improve the health of their soils. Farmer-selected indicators should be the point of departure, and are likely to be based on local understanding of the beneficial effects of conservation agriculture processes.

Involvement of all stakeholders

In the development of cost-effective solutions for a more sustainable agriculture, local knowledge and skills should be effectively drawn upon through participatory processes and tools for research and technology development. Attention should be paid to making full use of previous and current research results, particularly through collaboration and exchanges (Box 27). Various mechanisms are being explored to make research institutes more responsive to farmers' demands, by ensuring that they and other stakeholders take part in decisions regarding research priorities. Another option has been to channel funding for research through farmer organizations and give them a chance to select the organization they want to conduct a particular piece of research. In addition, the high costs involved have led some governments to privatise certain areas of research, but this entails a risk that research effort would shift away from issues of relevance to poorer farmers.

BOX 27: The SADC-ICRAF Zambezi Basin Agroforestry Project

This project is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and has been run by ICRAF since 1996. The emphasis of the programme is on the facilitation of research-extension-farmer linkages in order to achieve a significant impact with agroforestry practices on the livelihoods of rural people.

Within the environment of international research centres of the CGIAR system, it was the first project to be involved with the dissemination of research outputs. Research and extension is directed at the key farming systems constraints of the region: soil fertility replenishment, in particular N; improved fodder production; production of wood; and domestication of indigenous fruit trees.

Two practices to increase soil fertility are improved fallows with fast-growing leguminous trees and maize intercropped with Glyricidia sepium.

Training centres and universities can play an important role in promoting more integrated soil, water and crop management through continuing education initiatives. These allow extension agents and researchers to renew and broaden throughout their professional life the ideas and methods they received during their early training. Such a continuing process of professional development will require a long-term commitment and perspective if farmer participatory approaches are to gain real hold.

Local initiative needs to be harnessed in discussion groups and workshops, which in turn help the formation and strengthening of local management groups. This will enhance the flows of information and ideas in both directions between farmers' experiences and research and extension services, and the prospects of positive benefits being attained by farmers.

For better results in the adoption process, the farmers' and farmer families' priorities and context have to be considered while addressing the problems and designing the strategies (Box 28). Solutions should help reduce risks inherent in markets and weather fluctuations, and intensify output per unit area in ways that are conservation-effective. This approach is more realistic than expecting farmers to adopt standardised recommendations.

BOX 28: Conservation tillage technology transfer in
Natal (South Africa)

The Summer Grain Centre of the South African Agricultural Research Council Grain Crops Institute (ARC-GCI) commenced conservation tillage trial research in KwaZulu-Natal in 1976. Adoption suffered a major setback in 1986/87 due to conditions particularly favourable for diplodia cob-rot and severe infestations in susceptible maize hybrids. A switch to more tolerant hybrids, soaring production costs and declining grain prices have resulted in farmers choosing conservation tillage as a means of increasing net returns.

Adoption involved the development of proven and appropriate technology; the involvement of peer-respected farmers; on-farm trials and demonstrations offering a package of options; farmer-to-farmer extension; and scientists viewing obstacles as a challenge (Berry, 2000).

For example, in 1994 in Malawi fertilizer and maize subsidies were removed, which led to a rising fertilizer/maize price ratio, and made fertilizer use on maize largely uneconomic. This increased the interest in organic options for improving soil fertility, in particular through green manure and agroforestry systems (Box 29). Thus, several institutions and projects are now focussing their research and extension efforts on these systems.

BOX 29: The Malawi Agroforestry Extension Project (MAFE)

The purpose of the project is to improve the management and conservation of natural resources with sustainable increases in smallholder production. The main objectives are to increase adoption of agroforestry technologies through participatory technology development; develop a network of organizations and institutions in order to reduce duplication and share resources, information and experiences; and create a national action plan for the replication of recommendations.

Among the technologies evaluated for soil and water conservation and soil fertility replenishment, maize undersown with Tephrosia vogelii seems to be a promising option for smallholder farmers because of the higher maize yields obtained.

When given the opportunity, farmers have been innovative at adapting technologies to their own conditions, often having a significant return impact on research and extension institutions in the process. Empowerment of farmers to solve their own problems is achieved not through training alone, but also by introducing ideas and information from which farmers can make their own choices.

Advice and technical support need to be provided to assist these groups to put their ideas and plans into action in ways that can be self-sustaining. Emphasis should be placed on helping the rural people to develop and implement their own solutions and plans rather than imposing programme from outside. In order to favour such synergy, the advisers should also make sure that the tools necessary for farmers' experimentation are physically and economically within their reach.

The wider challenge is for agricultural organizations to become better at learning from others. They will have to promote experimentation; connectivity and group work based on roles rather than disciplines; and develop monitoring and self-evaluation systems to improve learning and awareness. Some of this improvement in accountability and client orientation can come from increased involvement of the private sector.

In the long term, external agencies need to work in participatory ways that build on local capacity to experiment, innovate and develop technologies. The effectiveness of field staff in closest contact with farmers appears to be greatest where they can act as facilitators, as directories for needed services, as travel agents for inter-group visits, as windows to other knowledge which may be interesting and useful to farmers' own discussions.

A country with a very long history in this is Brazil, where this progress has been facilitated by the strong partnership between government, industry, conservation organizations and innovative farmers. It has been proven that conservation agriculture in general and zero tillage in particular is not only a theoretical concept but a feasible farming practice applicable under a wide range of climatic, soil and social conditions.

Because government agencies are relatively permanent institutions, they can be or become lasting and knowledgeable and independent sources of support. NGOs should be encouraged to work closely with government agencies rather than in isolation, with a view to helping government staff to develop their interests and skills in working with rural communities (at which NGOs are often more adept than government offices), using well developed and successful participatory programmes as templates for study and learning.

A good example is the recent involvement (1995) of the Brazilian government in the zero tillage extension process. Several ministries and research institutions are collaborating together and with NGOs such as ZTAT and the CAT network (Boxes 15 and 16) through financial support, training of technicians, research support, integration of training sessions in universities and other contributions to the promotion actions of ZTAT (Box 30).

BOX 30: Contribution of the Brazilian government to zero tillage promotion

Major support came from the Environment Ministry to promote the work with CATs. These had been correctly identified as key actors in promoting national management of watersheds, resulting in improved water quality (less pollution and silting from erosion) and regularisation of stream flows and aquifer recharge (greater rainfall infiltration and hence less severe floods). Further support for zero tillage promotion was generated by collaboration with ABEAS and the University of Brasilia in the first graduate-level correspondence course in zero tillage in Brazil, in 1999 (Landers, 2000).

The Agricultural Ministry also maintained close collaboration with ZTAT, providing financial and other support for events and training activities from 1995 to the present. ZTAT has been collaborating in ministry training courses on soil conservation, where zero tillage began to be formally introduced from 1997 onwards. From 1996 to 1999 a director of ZTAT was from this ministry's Soil and Water Conservation division.

Institutional and policy considerations

Land-related problems are often seen in terms of specific issues such as desertification, deforestation, nutrient depletion, pollution, biological diversity or climate change. Each issue tends to give rise to individual programmes, which develop separate methodologies and compete for resources. Governments and international institutions are strongly sectoral in terms of interests and responsibilities. For these reasons development is usually approached in a piecemeal manner, divided and subdivided under different subject areas or sub-sectors. In fact, the use and husbandry of land are complex and many-faceted, which demands a holistic and integrated approach to address the broad range of goals and objectives of the multiple users that are perceived to be important.

Most cases where changes towards sustainable intensification have occurred are still only islands of success. This is partly because policy environments are not favourable. Most agricultural policies still actively encourage farming that is relying largely, often almost exclusively, on external inputs and technologies, that do not adequately internalise environmental and conservation costs and so discriminate against locally adapted biological resources, technologies and practices and sustainability. In many cases, these policy frameworks are the principal barriers to the spread of more sustainable and productive agricultural systems.

What has been achieved so far at community level represents what is possible in spite of the existing constraints. To date, policies have not been adequately used to direct agricultural practices towards greater sustainability. Indeed, sometimes they have had the opposite effect. They have rather focused on increasing production, usually associated with packages of external inputs and technical interventions. Very little attention has been given to the efficiency of the use of these inputs and interventions in environmental terms and hence the sustainability of the entire farming system or other land use system. So far, the real cost of unsustainable practices to the society is neither appreciated nor taken into economic consideration or used to inform management decisions.

For the transition to more sustainable agricultural and other land use systems to occur, governments must facilitate the process with an appropriate range and mix of policy instruments and measures. This could include, for example, efforts to decentralise administrations to interact better with local people; to reform land tenure to give individuals and communities the motivation to better manage and develop their local resources; to develop economic policy frameworks that encourage the more efficient use of resources; to develop new institutional frameworks and set up training that would enable their staff to be more sensitive to the needs of local people and instill a greater understanding of the ecological dynamics of different systems of land use.

It makes sense to take a planning horizon of 5 to 10 years, within which to consider the likely impact of various policy measures. Reflection on policies for land and water management clearly needs to link into what is being done in other fields of agricultural policy. The participatory approach in policy design is also important for promoting conservation agriculture.

In short, in addition to proven technologies, there is a need to create an enabling environment for their adaptation and adoption, which requires an appropriate policy and institutional framework and the provision of incentives (pricing, markets, land reform, security, etc.). The following considerations may facilitate the adoption of conservation agriculture practices by resource-poor farmers (Shackleton et al. 2000):

Laws and regulations

Laws and regulations are necessary to set rules and provide a framework for farmers as well as for institutions, extensionists and NGOs. However, they need to take in account the perceived interests of the land users and to find a basis of understanding and support among those affected by the regulations - unlike the early practice by some colonial authorities (Box 31).

BOX 31: History of a soil conservation law (Malawi)

Anti-erosion practices were forced on resource-poor farmers in Malawi, causing widespread resentment, and memory of this has been impeding the introduction of erosion control programmes to this day.

Although concern for soil erosion in the country started as early as the 1890s it was not until the 1930s and 1940s when the colonial soil conservation "mania" really developed. During this period government officials publicly declared that soil erosion had become a serious and urgent problem calling for immediate attention.

In 1946, the first Natural Resources Ordinance, designed to "make provision for the conservation and improvement of the natural resources of the Protectorate" (including soil) was enacted. Strict enforcement and imprisonment of those who could not comply with the regulations characterised soil conservation extension during this period.

(Nanthambwe and Mulenga, 1999)

A number of factors facilitate the process of designing and developing legal rules on conservation and management of land:

Few would disagree that communal areas in southern Africa provide land for arable production, fodder for livestock, and an array of biotic and abiotic resources for household use and sale. However, data on the contribution of these land-based activities to a diverse and dynamic livelihood have until recently been limited.

With the recent shift to more integrated, people-centred approaches, the emerging interest in natural resource valuation, and the formulation of new conceptual frameworks for understanding poverty and livelihoods, has there been increased appreciation of land-based livelihood activities and common pool resources. However, much of this new understanding remains within the domain of scholars, donor agencies and NGO practitioners. With some significant expectations, generally little has filtered through to government policy- and decision-makers, planners and extension agents, so that rural development, land reform and agricultural policies and practices often remain focused only on monetised activities (Box 32). The result is an underestimation of the value of communal lands (Shackleton et al. 2000).

BOX 32: Law 7779 "The use, management and conservation of soils" (Costa Rica)

Since 1985, the government of Costa Rica has been promoting sustainable development through numerous agricultural and forestry projects. The development in 1994 of a methodology to determine land use capability, which reflects the concepts of participatory land evaluation, generated an important impulse for the establishment of norms for the sustainable use and management of land. But it was not until the land use capability methodology was implemented in the field and had generated concrete results of participatory planning, implementation and monitoring of conservation activities, that a law describing the use, management and conservation of soils was approved.

The law was designed to be a tool to stimulate the participatory development of conservation agriculture, in which the farmer plays an active role. In case farmers use their land according to the land use capability and apply conservation practices, one of the incentives proposed in the law is a reduction of 40 percent in tax on the property.

(Dercksen, 1999)

Incentives and restrictions

The transition to conservation agriculture is not free of cost, nor particularly simple. During the two or three transition years to conservation agriculture, there are extra costs for some tools or equipment. The weed incidence, albeit rapidly diminishing, may induce farmers to apply herbicide in the first two years or so. The yields and the resilience against drought will improve gradually, only becoming evident after the first one or two years.

Governments wishing to support the spread of sustainable agriculture can provide incentives to encourage natural resource conservation or penalise those degrading the environment, or do both. The suitability of subsidies or incentives as a means to achieve conservation agriculture is open to question. Direct incentives for farmers may not always result in lasting change. Thus, when considering subsidies or incentives to farmers for the adoption of conservation agriculture, attention should be paid to questions such as:

Although there are numerous components and areas of action relating to agricultural policy and environmental management, a more sustainable agriculture can only be achieved by integrated action at farm, community and national levels. For it to succeed, this will also require the integration of policies. In Honduras for example, the development of the Quesungual system - and the reduction of the slash-and-burn practices - began in the early 1980s when the Government of Honduras initiated a programme to encourage farmers not to burn and the development has been sustained for decades (Figure 5). The adaptation of their production system has provided the farmers with a more diverse range of products. Not only does it meet the household subsistence needs for fruits, grains, fuel and construction wood but it also generates income by sale of the surplus on the market.

Figure 5

Reduction in burning over the last 3 years in southern Lempira (FAO, 1998b and 1999)

In some countries, as in El Salvador, restrictions and incentives were coupled for a better result in adoption process. Results from a survey (Calderón et al., 1991) in Guaymango indicate that the adoption of proposed technologies was rather slow in the early 1970s, but started to grow rapidly from 1973 onwards. By 1980 almost 90 percent of the farmers had adopted the recommendations from the package, recognizing the value of not burning crop residues as a soil conservation measure. A closer study of the process and circumstances, compared to similar regions where the conservation part of the technology package was not adopted, shows that farmers had virtually no other option than to adopt the whole package (Box 33).

BOX 33: The adoption process - Guaymango (El Salvador)

Conservation agriculture practices were introduced in the area in the early 1970s as part of a technological package to increase the productivity of maize and sorghum crops. An intensive programme to increase productivity and improve soil conservation was then launched by the Ministry of Agriculture and several private and public institutions. Coupled to a technological package (use of hybrid seeds, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, increased plant density), a number of conservation measures were included on the basis of zero tillage and improved residue management:

  • no burning of crop residues;
  • uniform distribution of crop residues over the field;
  • use of living and dead barriers; and
  • sowing on the contour.

Normally, farmers would have chosen those recommendations and inputs that fit their interests and socio-economic situation, which generally are the more profitable ones with an immediate benefit. However, in the case of Guaymango the various elements were linked through institutional and economic restrictions. The restriction with the greatest impact was the fact that farmers could only receive credit if they were organised in a group and all group members adopted the complete package, including the conservation practices. The other restriction was that farmers only had access to technical assistance and other incentives (such as field tours and soil conservation contests) from the extension service if they were organized. Non-adopters thus effectively faced a system of disincentives.

Another factor that may have influenced the decision making process of farmers to change towards conservation tillage, was the agrarian reform of 1980. Although only 12 percent were landowners, at the time the majority of the farmers adopted the practices, receiving ownership of their land , may have influenced the decision of late adopters. Although initially a lot of farmers were sceptical about the change from burning crop residues to a more conservation-oriented soil management 100 percent adoption of the technological package was achieved after 10 years. Both the successful extension programme and the link between recommendations and incentives were responsible for this change.

The adoption of entire packages, however, is an exception. As indicated earlier, conservation agriculture embraces numerous holistic systems, most of which are unique to individual farmers because of combinations of access to labour, land, markets, capital, soil type and slope, rainfall, etc. as well as perceptions, culture, traditions etc. Technology transfer is more often successful where farmers, after a joint, participatory assessment of needs, are offered a basket of options or system components from which they can select a few to test whether they will meet their specific need. Part of the success of this approach is due to farmer empowerment and the development of mutual respect and trust between farmer and adviser.

Finally, before any incentive is offered an in-depth analysis of its possible repercussions must be undertaken. There are numerous examples (such as the effect on local dairy farmers of the donation of powdered milk to east African countries, or the effect of the advent of cheap cooking oil on on-farm oil pressing) where incentives have destroyed or severely damaged fledgling local initiatives. Furthermore, incentives are often not sustainable (witness the defunct farm input subsidies in Tanzania and tractor-subsidisation schemes in most African countries), and their collapse or withdrawal has aggravated problems they were introduced to solve. Money available for incentives, therefore, is generally better spent in imparting knowledge to farmers and retraining advisers (Box 34).

BOX 34: Sustainability through incentives; Paraná 12 meses - (Brazil)

Paraná 12 meses is a programme initiated by the Brazilian state of Paraná, with the World Bank, to assist farmers spread their income over 12 months instead of the normal seasonal peaks.

Some of the money available has been used to encourage and enable farmers to utilise the time saved by adopting conservation tillage to add value to their primary products. Thus, for example, instead of selling maize, wheat or soya beans, farmers are offered training courses in dairying and the raising of pigs and poultry. In addition, municipal-level training and self-sustaining market outlets have been established to enable farmers to process the products of these secondary enterprises and sell, for example, cheeses, yoghurt, confectionery.

In this way skills are developed, rural jobs created, urban drift is slowed, profits normally accruing to urban traders are retained on the farm, and even small-scale farmers can generate profits which will enable them to pass on to their heirs an enterprise of which they can be proud.

Land tenure

Land tenure is a critical issue for adoption of conservation practices. All farming systems are affected by conflicts over land, be it tenure rights, land shortage or conflict with other users. It is particularly important to review land tenure rights where conflicts between pastoralists and crop producers need to be resolved (Plate 23).

Plate 23

Free-roaming cattle often lead to conflicts between pastoralists and agriculturalists


As listed by Sombroek and Sims (1995), land tenure issues may have many forms, some of which include:

Several forms of land tenure may present formidable obstacles to conservation agriculture and land husbandry practices designed to retain biomass from crop residues and cover crops in situ. More so, the use by individuals or groups in non-ownership categories such as rented, leased or illegal, pose serious threats to land husbandry, particularly when tenancy agreements are short or insecure as is common in many parts of Africa. In the Sahel, for example, access to land is usually decided by the Village Chief and the village council, and while settlers can have access to land, they have to make petitions to the council every year and have no permanent land rights (Speirs and Olsen, 1992).

Rights to the use of arable land in sub-Saharan Africa have almost invariably been granted to sedentary cultivators, often at the expense of transhumant pastoralists. This has been exacerbated in many areas by the expansion of agriculture, due to population growth, into traditional rangeland areas (Speirs and Olsen, 1992). East Africa, where some pastoralists (such as the Maasai) have been granted land rights, is an exception.

Where tenure is insecure farmers have little motivation to sustainably manage crop, livestock and land resources, their main concern being day to day survival and maximum extraction. There is often conflict between those wishing to maintain secure tenure, and less powerful groups (settlers and pastoralists) trying to obtain some measure of permanency to their land rights. Every effort should be made to first determine the degree to which land tenure issues are driving agriculture practices, before attempting to propose or impose technical solutions to crop-livestock conflict.

Sustainable land management is about making production an integral part of, and rationale for, conserving land resources; ensuring a partnership between land users, specialists, etc.; and creating a durable system (Critchley, 1998). In Africa insecurity of tenure is more likely in recent social engineering initiatives than in traditional systems, where there is usually a fundamental concept of a right to land regardless of wealth or status (Box 35). In a study in the Northern Province of South Africa the general perception among communal land users was "the land is mine. I use it, I occupy it, my father is buried here, my grandmother is buried here...". Security of tenure does not automatically result in good land use and management. Many people practice good land use with no formal security of tenure, while many with ownership actually manage land badly (Wegerif, 1998).

BOX 35: The benefits of communal tenure

The traditional land tenure systems in eastern and southern Africa often have benefits which outsiders either overlook or ignore. In these systems there is usually a fundamental right to land regardless of a family's wealth or status. Inherent in these systems are features and values such as:

  • one cannot lose residential land;
  • the allocation of arable land can often be flexible, depending on demand;
  • one cannot encumber land, so there is no debt pressure to over-exploit it;
  • rights to land are inherited, encouraging investment for future generations;
  • the systems are extremely cheap to operate, with almost no maintenance and administrative requirements;
  • in principle, though rarely implemented, the use of land that is not used effectively can be taken away.
  • (Wegerif, 1998)

Conservation agriculture linkages with international initiatives

In countries where there are many donor agencies involved in support to the agricultural sector, a concerted approach to the conservation agriculture issue will be needed to ensure coherence with other parts of the agricultural programme. There may also be some areas where there is value gained from networking between countries. These include, for example, learning lessons from innovative approaches to field level work between neighbouring countries with similar conditions; methods for participatory policy design and assessment; and ways of incorporating soil issues within broader strategies for sustainable agricultural development (CCD, NAPs, NEAPs, NSSDs). Support for networking amongst organizations working on participatory land and water management could be an important way to extend such approaches in a given region. FAO provides one such mechanism for inter-country networking, as do a range of other research and development networks (Box 36). However, care is needed to avoid international activities taking priority over a country and local focus.

BOX 36: The African Conservation Tillage network (ACT)

In 1998 a group of concerned organizations (FAO, the German technical development co-operation GTZ, the southern and eastern Africa Sida/FAO initiative FARMESA, the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU), and the South African Agricultural Research Council ARC) convened a workshop in Zimbabwe to discuss Conservation Tillage for Sustainable Agriculture. In addition to the approximately 70 participants from 15 African countries, 12 from other continents brought a global perspective. The workshop found that in many instances the necessary technology existed and the major constraint to adoption was its transfer. Policies and possibly legislation needed to be developed, and research needs identified. The best way to further these aims was considered to be the initiation and development of a network. Participants affirmed that the development of an effective network could inter alia provide dynamic comparative advantage, avoid duplication by international agricultural research centres, and facilitate adaptive research and technology transfer by national research initiatives and regional centres

As a result, in April 2000, a group of primarily African promoters and practitioners initiated the African Conservation Tillage network (ACT) to identify, disseminate and promote the adaptation and adoption of resource-conserving tillage practices in Africa. The network sees as its primary task the opening up of channels of communication, but also plans activities to stimulate the establishment of national conservation tillage networks and the identification, adaptation and adoption of conservation tillage techniques. It plans to concentrate its resources initially in eastern and southern Africa (2000-2002), then western and central Africa (2003-2005), and finally northern Africa (2006-2008). Membership is open to anyone interested in the practice or promotion of conservation tillage in Africa, and care is being taken to ensure that all those interested in promoting its objectives play a significant role in the network and are adequately served by it (Fowler and Rockstrom, 2000).

The Soil Fertility Initiative (SFI) for sub-Saharan Africa was launched during the World Food Summit in 1996 as a collaborative programme of the World Bank, FAO, IFDC and the CGIAR system. The Initiative responded to a widespread recognition that many of the difficulties faced by African farmers in raising their production are related to the inherently low fertility of much of the land in Africa1. There was a consensus that a special effort was needed to identify and apply solutions to arrest the increasing soil fertility decline, land degradation and associated problems of increasing food insecurity and poverty with particular attention to prevent further nutrient mining. Meanwhile, the SFI stakeholders have widely acknowledged that issues of soil fertility need to be seen and addressed from a broad perspective rather than in isolation.

Solutions to poor soil fertility and productivity decline need to include physical and biological soil issues as well as soil chemical and fertilizer aspects. Conservation agriculture and tillage systems should therefore be looked at under the SFI. Socio-economic issues such as weeding and tillage constraints due to labour shortages, lack of investment due to insecurity of land tenure as well as restricted access to inputs, services and financial resources also need to be considered. Conservation agriculture approaches these solutions from a firm foundation developed in Brazil and in new initiatives in Sub-Saharan Africa, to which SFI could link.

1 Other major difficulties include climate, markets, infrastructure, prices etc.

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