"We knew we had a problem, but we did not have a solution".
Increasing abuse of Africa's natural resources is propelling the countries of the continent into a spiral of decreasing food security and increasing aid dependence. To slow and reverse this spiral, the degradation and loss of Africa's agricultural resources must be urgently addressed. The adaptation and adoption of conservation tillage techniques can reduce and reverse current trends, but these options need to be identified and communicated to resource-poor farmers (Fowler and Rockstrom, 2000). Acknowledging that sustainable rural livelihoods are pivotal to stable societies and environments, that farmers are at the centre of improved land husbandry, and that better land husbandry will be more effective and acceptable than merely increasing the size or number of physical conservation works in preventing degradation, has many implications for farmer support arrangements.
Policies affecting the use and management of land should be co-ordinated across government departments to facilitate appropriate decision-making by farmers on land husbandry. Skill levels and reward systems in the public sector need to be adjusted in ways that encourage government staff to provide conservation-effective advice acceptable to the farmers. Agriculture-related incentives or subsidies should not jeopardise appropriate husbandry.
Training of professional staff must include developing their capacities in interdisciplinary collaboration and interpersonal relations; it should also include teaching of good land husbandry on a holistic basis.
Research programmes and activities need to do more to address the real-life problems of farmers, and to include farmers in the design and implementation of programmes relevant to their needs. Generating new technical knowledge may become less important than identifying and addressing the central factors inhibiting improved land husbandry - which may be economic, social, infrastructural or market-related.
Government organizations need to serve their farmer clients in more interdisciplinary and participatory ways, jointly focusing on particular groups, problems or areas rather than planning from above or executing technical programmes independently of one another.
Legislation should be adjusted to facilitate the requirements and initiatives of local groups, moving away from coercive or punitive legal instruments where these still exist (as e.g. in a number of Forestry Departments) as means of trying to stabilise land resources.
With conservation agriculture, land husbandry has gained a commercially productive holistic concept, allowing careful management of land and water resources as well as crops, animals and their pests. It also provides positive contributions to the environment including the conservation of biological diversity, combating desertification and drought, and carbon sequestration in regard to atmospheric resources conservation.