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Chapter 3

Analytical Discussion of Specific Aspects

The Adoption Process of Zero Tillage

The mechanisms Involved.

A number of different mechanisms have been involved in ZT adoption. These are summarized in Table 1.

Table 1
Mechanisms Involved in Zero Tillage Adoption in the Brazilian Tropics, in Approximate Order of Importance.


Agents of Change

Farmer-to-farmer contact

Individual farmers, Clubes Amigos da Terra, co-operatives and farmer associations

Commercial technical product promotion by

Herbicide, fertilizer and machinery manufacturers


and their distributors

Events organized by farmer organizations and private sector

Ag. Chemical firms ZT support group, ZTAT, CATs, CIRAD-CA (France), BFZTF, farmer foundations, co-operatives

Private technical assistance

Co-operatives and independent agronomists

Private sector and overseas-sponsored R&D activities

Herbicide, seed and fertilizer manufacturers, CIRAD-CA (France)

Technical publications

Agribusiness, NGO's, state/federal research, farmer foundations, co-operatives

Press and TV reports

National, local and specialized publications and TV programs

Informal and formal teaching in universities and agricultural schools

Most universities especially with student-organized lectures. Few agricultural schools

Investment Credit (São Paulo state only)

State bank

Reduction of 1% point in crop insurance

National Agricultural Credit System premiums for Zero Tillage practitioners (from 1997 onwards)

Up until the late 90's, because of the lack of specific research or small farmer experience in the Cerrado region, ZT was regarded by many researchers and most extensionists there as exclusively for large and medium mechanized farms, taking it outside the focus for extension services. This, and the larger area cultivated by mechanized farmers, explain the predominant role of private sector mechanisms in the spread of ZT to date. This situation is now being modified by involving extension services in promotional events, by the training of extensionists in ZT, and by close collaboration with researchers (see section Growth of Zero Tillage promoted by technical events and training).

Factors Impeding Adoption

During the First Cerrado ZT meeting in 1993, a questionnaire was completed by 70 respondents. The results, shown in Table 2, confirmed that lack of technical knowledge and fear of failure were the factors most impeding ZT uptake. The perceived barrier of the cost of a new planter was without foundation, for it resulted from not knowing that an existing machine could be converted at about 25% of the cost of a new one. Considerations of erosion losses, lack of research, crop insurance, and opinions of agronomists were of minor importance in determining farmers' attitudes.

Table 2
Responses to the Question "Why don't farmers adopt Zero Tillage?"

Reasons given

No. of replies

1. Insufficient technical knowledge.


2. Know nothing at all about Zero Tillage.


3. Fear of trying and getting it wrong.


4. Think that it is necessary to buy an expensive ZT planter.


5. Erosion losses under conventional cultivation are not significant.


6. Have not seen research results validating the technology.


7. ZT is not accepted for crop insurance.


8. My agronomist does not recommend it.


Sources of Resistance to Adoption of Zero Tillage as Official Policy

Such a fundamental change of basic values as throwing out ploughs and disc harrows generates a lot more resistance than the trouble of actually doing so. Curiously, the resistance of researchers, academics and extensionists to change was much greater than that of farmers. In economic terms, the farmer saw immediate benefits over and above the cost of change, while the professionals saw high costs in the effort of change and no foreseeable economic benefits accruing for this extra effort. Professionals have to be motivated by non-financial stimuli, which requires more time. Take peer pressure for example - where, why, and how does it start to generate?

An examination of the situation in tropical Brazil uncovered possible reasons for the professionals' slow response in following up on farmer practice (see Box 3).

A similar response from professionals would be probable in other countries where an established agricultural research community was not directly bound by their users' priorities.

Box 3: Why the slow research response to tropical ZT (up to 1995)?
  • Rejection of farmer-based experience (practice not proven statistically)
  • Resistance to the costs and effort of change
  • Research was on-station
  • Research generally not system-oriented
  • Researchers not in close contact with farmers
  • Rewards to researchers depended on publications not farmer impact
  • Little or no farmer control over research priorities
  • Priority to feed urban populations makes decision-makers averse to risk.
  • Misapprehension that Zero Tillage was only for large farmers

Figure 2 illustrates the fact that while de-compaction of soil is a prerequisite for physical adoption of ZT, mental adoption is subject to the same prerequisite. The striking graphical/anatomical representation of where most limitations lie, depicted in Figure 2, has been used by van der Klinken to underline the 180 degree change in thinking required. Indeed, almost all of the past limitations to Zero Tillage in Brazil have been overcome only by positive and creative thinking.

Figure 2
The Principal De-compaction Zone for Adoption of Zero Tillage

Changes in Rural Credit and Extension Focus.

The historical note (Box 4.) explains the context of ZT adoption in relation to the external influences of extension and rural credit.

Box 4: Historical Note

In the 1950's, when agricultural extension based on the American model started in Brazil, there was generally a large gap in knowledge levels between technicians and farmers. A top-down approach fitted this situation quite well. From 1972 onwards, this approach was reinforced by a subsidized rural credit system with obligatory technical assistance in accordance with research recommendations. At first, the technical assistance came exclusively from the extension service, but later also from independent consultant agronomists. However, in the 1980's, rural credit was reduced to small subsidies and low volume for medium and large farmers. By the decade of the 90's, such farmers had attained a similar technical level to the extension service, which had concentrated on small farmers since the end of the military rule in 1987. Meanwhile, the independent agronomists had developed into highly competent professionals. Medium and large mechanized farmers of high professional competence now demanded the latest technology. Thus, it was they who constituted the critical path for rapid ZT expansion


Clubes Amigos da Terra.

In 1993, after the success of the First Regional ZT Meeting in Rio Verde-GO, van der Klinken set up an informal nucleus of farmers and technicians interested in ZT in the region of Brasilia, where he lived. He organized periodic group excursions to different ZT practitioners within a radius of 100 kms. Then, following the example of the states of Rio Grande do Sul and Paraná in the 1980's, the first Clube Amigos da Terra (CAT in Portuguese or "Friends of the Land Club") was registered in the municipality of Jataí, Goiás state, followed by others, including nearby Rio Verde in 1994. The Clubes Amigos da Terra have the promotion of Zero Tillage as their principal objective. They are non-profit, non-commercial and non-political, open to anyone interested, and self-managed. They interact with ZTAT as a central support body.

The operational basis of the CATs is farmer-to-farmer exchanges of experiences on a monthly basis. The organization of promotional events to assist the spread of ZT, such as field days and debates, is common during the learning phase. This works well while farmers are converting to ZT, but after two to three years, when they have solved most of the immediate problems of adaptation to their local conditions, presentations by outside specialists, from both government and private sectors, become more frequent. At this point leadership is important and the two-year mandate for the CAT's officers facilitates a change from a pioneer type to a more management-oriented and forward-looking type of person, especially in the presidency. It is here that there is the danger of a collapse in the CAT's activities if the right leadership does not come forward.

Assuming it does, a natural extension of farmers' desires is to improve their system through promotion of on-farm adaptive research, cost-accounting, technical up-grading for managers, training of field personnel, et cetera. Farmers who have gone through the mental process of accepting and proving the new paradigm of ZT are profoundly affected by this revolution. Each becomes an enthusiastic promoter of the new technology and the consequent environmental protection (see also the Section: International reverberations). This process is illustrated in Figure 4, and on-farm R & D is discussed in the Section: On-farm research and pilot projects.

Figure 3
A Management route to lower use of agricultural chemicals

Today, ZTAT has a network of some 40 CATs and other collaborating farmer organizations, spread over seven states. It supports them in various ways and among these are: (i) a kit sent to any interested party with statutes, a description of possible activities and modus operandi for the club; (ii) publishing of articles on CAT activities in the quarterly bulletin Cerrado Zero Tillage; (iii) obtaining lecturers and experienced farmers for technical meetings, courses, debates, et cetera; (iv) organizing training courses; (v) communicating requests to government entities; (vi) access to the ZTAT mailing list to identify potential members, and (vii) promoting interchange amongst CATs.

In 1999, the ZTAT statutes were modified to provide better support to the CAT network. A Deliberative Council made up of the presidents of member clubs and equivalent entities was formed in order to create grassroots level influence on the board of directors, thus focussing ZTAT's activities better and engendering more support from its members (see Appendix 7). Private sector sponsorship has been enlisted by some CATs to fund on-farm research (see the example in Appendix 9). However, there is a need to preserve the independence of CATs from commercial interests; for this reason a farmer is preferred as president, and commercial representatives are not admitted to the board of directors. To date, this has been fairly well respected even though commercial firms put up funds to sponsor CAT activities. The suppliers of farm inputs and buyers of farm produce are evidently interested in furthering the technical and financial progress of their clients.

There are successful CATs made up of small farmers in South Brazil. They often depend on support from extension services. ZTAT has been promoting the training of extensionists to work with CATs, and many extensionists have welcomed the approach as a departure from the top-down formation of small farmer associations to receive government favours, but which collapse as soon as the financial benefits finish. For the time being, ZTAT is working through pilot projects in conjunction with extension services or through medium/large farmer CATs and small farmer associations. The results are positive. Essentially, the outside agent must take a back seat and restrict himself to giving organizational and technical support to the farmers' activities.

Developing and Disseminating Technical Information

A questionnaire was used with 70 respondents during the First Regional ZT meetings, in 1993. Its purpose was to orient ZTAT's priorities for disseminating ZT. The responses to a question on deficient areas of knowledge are tabulated below:

From the replies, it was clear that the respondents had clearly focussed on the important aspects of the new technology. However, when these were stratified, Table 4, a slightly different picture emerged.

Table 3
Responses to the Question "What are the topics on which you need more information?"

Reasons given

No. of replies

1. Desiccant herbicides.


2. Second crop options to generate biomass.


3. Planters and seed drills.


4. Variety/crop selection for grain production in the second rainfed crop.


5. Post-emergent herbicides.


6. Other farm implements


Table 4
Priorities for Technical Information According to Class of Respondent

Class of respondent

Priority Topic in Table 3.





ZT adopters












All three categories gave top priority to desiccation prior to planting, the most critical and tricky operation in ZT. However, as second priority, the non-adopters were understandably more preoccupied with the planting operation than with second crop options, although that was their next priority. In the third place, the adopters were more interested in making a profit from the second crop, while the technicians gave more importance to the post-emergent herbicides they would have to recommend for the main crop. This exercise emphasized the need to provide and disseminate more technical information in order to reduce the risk factor in change. This conclusion was valid for farmers of all sizes.

In 1992, research results in the tropics lagged behind farmer practice in tropical ZT, except in the specific area of herbicides. In early 1993, for the First Regional ZT Meetings, van der Klinken had prepared a state-of-the-art résumé of cover crop and second cropping practices for the Cerrado region, drawing on all available sources, including farmers. The interest generated by this handout and the replies to the questionnaire encouraged him to expand this into a de facto ZT manual for the region. He collated farmers' anecdotal information, data recorded on farms, and data from research and commercial sources, and he persuaded various colleagues to make contributions.

In contrast to the style of extension publications then in fashion, with caricature drawings of funny-looking people, which he felt made farmers appear foolish, van der Klinken developed a novel approach: when there were no published research findings, he used farmer experience for recommended practice. The manual he drafted was written in a succinct style with frequent use of bullets to identify the basic points that the farmer needed for decision-making, all set within a logical, technical framework. In each chapter he cited real farm experiences in short word sketches of one paragraph. An especially relevant source was data from the on-farm research project carried out by the two French scientists from CIRAD (see list of Further reading under Seguy).

Van der Klinken's next step, in October 1993, was to take the draft to São Paulo and present it to the ZT pool of companies for sponsorship. It was refused for obscure reasons, but possibly because it departed from the top-down style prevalent in technology transfer at that time in both Brazil's public and private sectors. Or even more likely was that it was still a very unpolished draft.

Van der Klinken was so upset by this rejection that he spent almost a month at home in a state of despondency. He had no fixed income, was almost broke, and did not know what to do next. Eventually, he called Washington Sementeira, ZTAT's president, to ask what could be done. Sementeira's encouraging reply was to come to his farm and meet with the ZTAT directors to review the work page by page.

The directors of ZTAT found the material good and so potentially useful that they decided to raise funds for its publication, in spite of the refusal of the so-called ZT Group1. Washington Sementeira used his connections with the president of the Goiás State Bank and was promised a US$5,000 contribution, but payable only when the book had been published. This did not help the low cash position of ZTAT, but it certainly inspired van der Klinken towards new efforts. To support him, the directors requested and obtained secretarial and editorial assistance from their local farmers' co-operative, one of the largest and most successful in Brazil. Coincidentally, the technical manager of the co-operative was a ZTAT director. It should be noted that directors did not invest financially in the association, but they gave their time and effectively used their connections, as well as the association's growing reputation, to lever funds and material support for successfully spreading ZT.

By early 1994, van der Klinken had produced a revised, ready-to-print mock-up of the manual. Effective marketing by Washington Sementeira at the 4th National Zero Tillage meeting in March of that year - in Cruz Alta, Rio Grande do Sul state - and a follow-up by van der Klinken, resulted in agribusiness firms paying US$1,200 for one page advertisements. And the profit on the sale of 2300 copies gave the association its first reliable cash flow. This was augmented later by a cash prize from a US agribusiness company for its 1994 worldwide environment award, and there was also a second print run. The directors established the principle of rewarding van der Klinken from means which he generated through ZTAT activities. This created no financial risk to ZTAT, but neither did it give van der Klinken any medium term guarantees. He nevertheless accepted the challenge.

The publication of the manual was followed in 1996 by the launch of a quarterly technical news bulletin. By 2000, this had grown from 12 pages and 5,000 copies to 24 pages and 10,000 copies. At the 5th National ZT Meeting (Goiânia, GO in 1996), ZTAT began a deliberate effort to gain support of environmentalists by opening the meeting with the theme The Environment and ZT. This resulted in the publication of a book with the same title. Support for the editing and design of this book came from the Information Service of Embrapa and the Ministry of the Environment's National Secretariat of Water Resources (SRH). The cover flap was signed by the ministers of both Environment and Agriculture, in a symbolic gesture of the collaboration required to integrate watershed management and soil conservation through Zero Tillage. This remains only symbolic for the moment, though ZTAT continues to work on improving cooperation between the two ministries. However, the change of both ministers resulted in a setback, now being patiently redressed.

In 1997, the private sector ZT Group promoted a national launching of the book at the Hilton Hotel in São Paulo, in the presence of many presidents and directors of major agribusiness firms. This also served to cement support for BFZTF and the ZT cause at country level. And FAO has now commissioned the translation of the book into English.

Three of the principle protagonists of this case study (van der Klinken, Martinez and Pedregoso) have also produced a significant number of scientific papers on the subject of ZT. These have drawn the attention of the scientific and international communities to the sustainable nature of the Zero Tillage and Conservation Agriculture technology developed in Brazil's wet/dry tropical savannahs. Publishing these papers is principally directed at informing decision-makers of the need to provide incentives in favour of ZT and to inform technicians, in all sectors, who can adapt this knowledge at farm level or in research.

On-farm Research and Pilot Projects

Appendix 9 summarizes the organization and actions in an on-farm research validation programme developed by CAT Uberaba, MG. The willingness of agricultural suppliers to fund such actions is linked to sales expectations, but these companies have no say in the selection of research priorities or experimental design. In the case of small farmers everywhere, if the market is big enough (e.g. small cotton, cocoa or coffee producers in, say, Ivory Coast) similar support could be expected for test areas. In another example of on-farm research, CAT Rio Verde, GO has pulled together 10 local organizations to fund a three-year test area for refining fertilizer practice and acceptable levels of pig effluent on soybeans and maize. Both exercises use the farmer's existing machinery so that results are immediately applicable. They are spread by farmer-to-farmer and ZTAT activities, outside the official extension service. These are both examples of self-help generated by the farmers' participation in CATs.

Research in Brazil has lagged on specific aspects of small farm ZT agronomy in the tropics, especially the testing of cover crop management to eliminate the cash outlay on herbicides. In the year 2000, there was virtually no research for the semi-arid zone of tropical Brazil and no significant farmer experience below 1200mm annual rainfall (see discussion in Chapter 4: What is needed to expand ZT concepts to the semi-arid region of Brazil).

Applicability of ZTAT experience to small farmers.

Concerned that ZT adoption in the Cerrado region had been restricted to medium and large mechanized farms, van der Klinken, Pedregoso and Martinez agreed that two requirements were critical to spreading the technology to the small-farm sector: (i) technology validation, and (ii) the training of extensionists. By 1998 one pilot project each had been carried out by the Agricultural Faculty of the University of Goiás (UFG) and the Amigos da Terra Club of Rio Verde, GO, with promising results.

In 1999, ZTAT received the donation of three small three-row ZT planters. It signed an agreement with EMATER-DF to place these with small farmer associations to promote ZT and validate the ZT technology. The first results have been promising, with one small farmer even planting maize into degraded Brachiaria decumbens pasture. The technology proved totally adapted. In one case, however, the support of the extension services was not wholly adequate, so that planter has now been transferred to the CAT in Unaí MG, where demand was identified among small farmers in agrarian reform projects. Other demands for assistance to small farmers through training of extensionists have been received and funding is being sought.

An important element to note is how medium and large farmers, working through individual CATs and ZTAT, have been willing to help small farmers wishing to adopt ZT, and also to demonstrate the technology to encourage more adoption. This is another example of the social conscience which ZT arouses in adopting farmers and is part of the "Gateway Effect" shown in Figure 5. This summarizes the results of the change in mindset provoked after a farmer (or technician) has entered the world of Zero Tillage. Once the technology has been developed by larger farmers, the R&D effort required to adapt the system to small farmers is relatively small. In South Brazil, where small-farmer ZT is well-developed, thanks to a BFZTF-initiated pilot project, there are more than 10 manufacturers specialised in ZT machinery for small farmers. Both in South Brazil and in Paraguay, subtropical small-farmer systems have been developed which eliminate the requirement for herbicides. But so far, these systems are lacking for the tropics.

Medium/large commercial farmers can generally organize their own technological development, but small farmers require assistance with on-farm research and demonstrations carried out in conjunction with trained personnel. The conclusion of a debate with extensionists during a 1999 training course was that the farmer must perceive real and lasting benefits from a CAT or association for it to be a true success. The knowledge of ZT technology is perceived as a lasting benefit, as has been clearly expressed by farmers on ZTAT pilot projects. The principal individual benefits initially identified are: less dependence on hired tractors; lower cash outlay for pre-planting operations; erosion control; earlier planting; and drought resistance.

ZT is the Gateway to Sustainability

Growth of Zero Tillage Promoted by Technical Events and Training

Technical Events

From 1992 onwards the herbicide, fertilizer, planter and sprayer manufacturers carried out field research and actively promoted Zero Tillage through a series of local farmer events. To further an alliance of such activities, ZTAT organized the 1st Cerrado Regional Zero Tillage Meeting in 1993. It was partnered in this by the farmers' co-operative of Rio Verde, Goiás state. Some180 farmers and technicians came to the meeting from all over the region. This was when the officially registered ZTAT elected its first definitive board of directors, all farmers.

In 1995, the Brasilia nucleus organised the 2nd Regional ZT Meeting, with over 800 participants. This high level of interest derived from the explosion in ZT, both in the Cerrado region and in Brazil as a whole (see Figure 2). This was followed by two national events (Goiânia 1996 and Brasilia 1998) totalling 4300 participants, and by two more regional events (Rio Verde, GO in 1997 and Uberlândia MG in 1999) totalling 1700 participants. Also, between 1993 and 1999 the private sector's ZT Group, eight agricultural chemical/seed/fertilizer companies, organized about four local events a year averaging some 300 participants each and in which ZTAT regularly participated. ZTAT concentrated almost exclusively on promoting ZT through and technical events and publications until 1998 when it also embarked on training programmes.

Private sector support and ZTAT integration with farmers was fundamental to the expansion of ZT. Federal government support in the Cerrado region only materialised significantly after ZTAT and private sector representatives met with the board of directors of Embrapa in 1995. Consistent support from extension services only began with the training of extensionists in 1998 (see next section).

Based on the technical success of the 5th National Zero Tillage Meeting, in Goiânia (1995), ZTAT was requested by the national federation (BFZTF) to host a 6th National Meeting in Brasilia itself. ZTAT was against the location because of its expensive hotels and the long distance to a field site - 80 km versus 15 km in Goiânia - and also because of the lack of a venue to hold at least 2500 participants, which was possible in Goiânia. But the vote of the national directors was for Brasilia, with a view to putting Zero Tillage on the political map.

ZTAT democratically accepted this incumbency - and incumbency it was. The potential sponsors were very dubious about the venue, and it was extremely hard to sell stands and field plots. The largest available venue, the Brasilia Convention Centre, only held 1400 people at a time, so participants had to visit the field and lecture presentations in the convention centre on alternate days of the four day event. The result was that over 1400 participants stayed in town to profit from the huge choice of 35 different presentations and 66 presenters. This caused a partial boycott of the demonstration field, and there were some very unsatisfied sponsors, especially among the machinery manufacturers, who had no stands in town. This was in spite of the fact that van der Klinken and his collaborators had produced such a showpiece, with 40 exhibitors on a 40 hectare centre pivot, that an North American visitor said that he had never seen a specialised Zero Tillage event of such a size in the US.

The ambitious event was budgeted at US$400,000, but it was not able to cover its costs. Swedo Martinez saved the situation by re-negotiating all outstanding debts, obtaining substantial discounts to balance the books. But once again the event had drained ZTAT's reserves, or worse, failed to generate a margin to guarantee future activities.


No training courses were organized between 1994 and 1998 simply because there was not enough management capacity to execute them. But in 1998 it was decided to embark training.

Van der Klinken established interest in training extensionists in several tropical states and decided to risk taking on an experienced field agronomist to run a basic training programme for them. ZTAT's funds were low after yet another event with problematic funding (the 4th Regional ZT Meeting), so van der Klinken took a gamble and guaranteed the agronomist Erivaldo Finkenbinder's salary for three months. Van der Klinken had several international engagements coming up and he realized he could not manage the programme properly. Funding from the Ministry of Agriculture was requested, approved, and seemed certain - until the minister changed!

But ZTAT was committed to the program with four state extension services and a bootstrap operation was launched. Fred Pedregoso obtained funding for lecturers from one state and the use of a training centre free. Another state and the National Agricultural Training Scheme could pay partially for their candidates, but other states had no funds and could not contribute. But one of these offered a training centre and some of their time, and the savings would pay for lodging and food costs. Erivaldo Finkenbinder got contributions from a sprayer manufacturer and a local input supplier, but in a year of high devaluation and in the wake of the 6th National ZT Meetings, little support was forthcoming from major agribusiness companies. Finally, the Brazilian Association for Higher Education in Agriculture (ABEAS) came through with air tickets for some trainers. Best of all, ZT farmers collaborated wholeheartedly in putting on equipment demonstrations and field visits at no cost at all.

In late 1998 and in 1999, five separate courses of one week each were given; 140 extensionists were trained from seven different states. After the change in ministers, Swedo Martinez had to exert all the influence he could at top level in the Agricultural Ministry to obtain new approval. Funds were finally released in the nick of time. ZTAT would have been seriously in deficit if the Ministry of Agriculture contribution had not materialised. The training courses were a great success and completely changed the attitudes of tropical state extension services to ZT, paving the way for collaboration in more pilot projects with small farmers and leading to considerable benefits to the small-farm sector.

Training courses in ZT are now in high demand. ZTAT has therefore structured a plan for the dry season of 2000 to cover both private and public sectors, since it could have been criticized by its members for offering training mostly to the public sector in past years. This time, the project was submitted to sponsors several months ahead. But, as always, there is the problem of financing all the prior activities, such as preparation of course materials and contacts with sponsors, trainers, and collaborating institutions. The problem is that the sponsors rarely advance funds, preferring to see results first.

Promoting Partnerships for ZTAT Activities

The distinguished curriculum of Swedo Martinez, both as a research executive and agricultural consultant, helped bring about the development of good working relations between ZTAT and the central and state governments. After being elected vice-president of ZTAT in 1995, he has been its president from 1996 to the present. From early in his term of office, he was concerned that ZTAT might take on more commitments than its modest staff capacity, and even more modest, ephemeral and bootstrap budget, permitted. He therefore pursued a policy of partnerships with both public and private sectors, and it has been very successful.

After the 5th National ZT Meeting in Goiânia (1996), ZTAT's headquarters were transferred to Brasilia, thanks to a master stroke from Swedo Martinez: he obtained at no cost the use of the offices of another association which had ceased activities temporarily.

Good relations with the national research enterprise, Embrapa, soon came to fruition in the shape of the cancellation of a planned transfer of Dr. Fred Pedregoso to a distant research Centre outside ZTAT's area of influence. This soil scientist had been the most interested and dedicated researcher in ZT for the tropics and had participated with van der Klinken in a ZT work group in Goiânia in 1992/3. Pedregoso not only totally re-aligned his research responsibilities towards ZT, but he also devoted much of his own time to seeing to the basic requirements for ZTAT. For example, he kept annals of the meetings which had been organised and which were unpublished, developed a 6,000 name mailing list, interfaced with other researchers, and did star turns in training courses and event organisation. He was always ready to help colleagues with anything, and he was totally reliable.

By 1997, Cerrado Zero Tillage was receiving regular contributions from Embrapa and university researchers, and a number of successful technical events had been executed, with active collaboration from Embrapa and from universities and state research and extension services. The association had thus achieved a reputation for technical leadership in tropical Zero Tillage. Major support came from the Environment Ministry through the (National) Secretariat of Water Resources, which provided consultancy assignments to van der Klinken and others to promote the work with Amigos da Terra Clubs. This had been correctly identified as a key action in promoting national-level management of watersheds to improve water quality - through less pollution and silting from erosion - and to regularize stream flows and aquifer recharge and reduce flooding - through greater rainfall infiltration.

ZTAT has also maintained close collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, receiving financial and other support for events and training activities from 1995 till the present. It also collaborated in Ministry training courses on soil conservation, where ZT began to be formally introduced from 1997 onwards. From 1996 to 1999, one of ZTAT's directors was from this Ministry's Soil and Water Conservation Division.

In 1997, at the instigation of Swedo Martinez, a request was made by the National Research Council for ZTAT to organise a workshop for all involved parties in the ZT agrobusiness chain in order to identify research priorities in Zero Tillage for Brazil. As a matter of principle, BFZTF, to which ZTAT is affiliated, was incorporated into this process as the executing agency. A countrywide Platform Project was organised under Dr. Fred Pedregoso's co-ordination to survey farmers' problems and analyse this data as a basis for sound national priorities. This work is ongoing. The analysis as to why the research system had been slow to respond to the needs of tropical Zero Tillage - outlined earlier in Box 3 - was presented to the workshop.

Further support for ZT promotion was generated by collaboration with ABEAS2 and in 1999, by the University of Brasilia in the first graduate level correspondence course in Zero Tillage in Brazil. Reports and announcements in Cerrado Zero Tillage underpinned this effort, contributing to an enrolment of 70 students.

Despite this initiative by the University of Brasilia, there was considerable delay in the incorporation of ZT in the curricula of other universities and agricultural colleges. Because of this, students of agricultural faculties requested and obtained ZTAT assistance in organizing ZT lectures and events. However, by the year 2000 there had been considerable incorporation of ZT in the curricula of tropical region universities, but none in agricultural colleges.

Financial Aspects of ZTAT Operations.

Private and public sector finance has been forthcoming for all seminars, meetings, training courses, and field days. Since 1998, however, the Brazilian farm economy has been in shambles and finding support has been more difficult. But somehow, ZTAT has managed to obtain funding because of its track record and its well-focussed approach. Intensive training courses for extensionists illustrate this point.

The Achilles heel of ZTAT finance has always been obtaining paid up members. Since 1996, members receive four copies per year of the technical news bulletin Cerrado Zero Tillage, for a joint membership fee and bulletin subscription of only US$12 per year. Since Cerrado Zero Tillage depends on commercial advertising to pay its way, circulation must be kept up, or increased, implying that the bulk of its 10,000 copies are distributed free. This undermines obtaining more fully paid subscriptions, which have risen to only 350. Nor have promotional events generated any positive cash return, throwing a heavy burden on ZTAT and limiting further promotional efforts.

Various methods have been tried to overcome the problem of membership subscriptions, but Brazilian farmers have been going through very hard times and shun any expense not forced upon them. ZTAT even tried using a very pretty girl at events with the sole objective of selling annual subscriptions, but it generated little impact. Putting bank deposit slips with a letter and membership forms in each issue of the bulletin is costly in time spent, but it has shown some results. In sum, subscriptions remain a severe restraint, for just 3,000 members, or one third of the circulation, paying US$12 per year would give an annual income of US$36,000, enough to cover basic operations and promotional activities.

Since late 1994, most of van der Klinken's time has been taken up with organising events, and from 1996 onwards in producing, editing and distributing the quarterly bulletin. More recently he has been occupied with international engagements, as well as with providing ongoing support to member clubs. These duties prevented him preparing a second edition of the ZT Manual which has historically been the best generator of revenue. However, the publication of another book in 1997, The Environment and Zero Tillage (10,000 copies), partially filled the funding gap, even if many copies were distributed free due to arrangements with sponsors.

Policy and Environmental Considerations

The Brazilian ZT and Conservation Agriculture technology has arisen as a farmer-driven response to their own and society's desire to achieve economic advancement and poverty alleviation, combined with sustainable - and increasingly communal - management of the nation's natural resources. It is certainly the best current alternative for achieving these goals in the humid and sub-humid tropics, but it requires more development in the semi-arid and arid tropics, where pastoralism and irregular rainfall are major obstacles to maintaining soil cover. On Brazilian farms, it has led to the professional development of the farmer as a manager, to higher skills in the rural workforce, higher intensity of cropping, and higher yields and incomes.

As illustrated earlier in Figure 3, there are parallel advantages. These include a wider appreciation of the environment, which in turn leads to reductions in input utilisation per ton of product, and a greater propensity to adopt biological controls. The totally positive influences of ZT are depicted in Figure 4, showing, for example, how community-led actions to adopt ZT and effective watershed management on a small catchment basis can bring benefits.

The wide-ranging impact of ZT and associated strategies for Conservation Agriculture for natural resource management extend far beyond the farm boundaries in a totally new dimension, integrating farmers' activities into the very fabric of society. There are positive implications for the environment, food security, water resources for the urban population, and a better quality of life for society as a whole. This is a story of farmer persistence and empowerment, community resource management and farmer/private sector/government partnerships. Together, they have engendered a new philosophy for truly sustainable systems of Conservation Agriculture at high production levels. There is considerable positive impact on farm incomes and the quality of rural life, especially at the small farm level, where reductions in labour demands and drudgery in manual and animal traction operations are dramatic.

Box 5 details the benefits to society generated mostly by the farmer's own investment. This raises the moral question whether the farm sector, having generated these benefits for society, does not have the right to receive future government investment as grants in order to create even greater social benefits. Such grants should be classified as social transfers, devolving to the farm sector part of the economies already created for society. They would not be subsidies. This is an important consideration for the WTO, and strategies related to globalisation, and conservation of the planet's natural resources. Policies that made such social transfers to farmers in favour of ZT, in its broader context of Conservation Agriculture, would speed its expansion.

Box 5: Benefits Generated for Society by Adoption of Zero Tillage
  • Reduction of silting in reservoirs, lakes and watercourses proportional to 70-90% less erosion (Chaves H.M.L in Saturnino and Landers, 1997). A very conservative estimate of the economic value of this reduction for the Cerrado region has been calculated as US$ 33 million per year (Landers, 1996);
  • Consequent reduction in the pollution and eutrophication of surface waters by agricultural chemicals carried in erosion runoff (Sorrenson and Montoya, 1984);
  • Substantial reduction in treatment costs of municipal water drawn from surface sources (Bragagnolo and Parchen, 1991);
  • Considerable reductions in maintenance costs of rural roads;
  • Reduced wear on hydro-electric turbines from the passage of cleaner water;
  • Flooding risks reduced by 30-60% because of greater rainfall infiltration (Chaves, H.M.L in Saturnino and Landers, 1997); surface residues delay overland water flow, increasing times of concentration;
  • By the same token, aquifer recharge is enhanced, improving groundwater reserves and dry season flows in springs and streams;
  • Reductions in diesel fuel use of 50-70%, or more, (Gentil et al., 1993) and proportional reductions in greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Zero Tillage - compared to Conventional Tillage - has a major impact in reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, for it immobilizes carbon in increased soil organic matter and surface residues (Derpsch, R. in Saturnino and Landers,1997)
  • By promoting high-yielding sustainable agriculture and increasing pasture carrying-capacity through rotation with annual crops, Zero Tillage reduces the demand for agricultural frontier expansion by deforestation;
  • Provision of winter feed (crop and weed seeds not incorporated into the soil), lower soil temperatures, and reduced water pollution levels increase populations of terrestrial, soil, and aquatic fauna;
  • High-yielding, prosperous and sustainable Conservation Agriculture ensures lower food costs and improved food security for the population as a whole.

Source: adapted from Landers J.N., 1994

An example of the economic advantages from ZT can be drawn from a World Bank project in Santa Catarina state: the indirect benefits in reducing fertilizer losses in erosion runoff, from an area of 600,000 ha over 15 years, were enough to pay for the cost of the whole, USD 75 million project. This is a Land Management project whose key actions were the introduction of Zero Tillage and improved farm sanitation, especially for animal wastes. There was a notable reduction in both silt and coliform faecal bacteria in the rivers whose watersheds were covered by project actions, and this produced distinct reductions in water treatment costs at municipal level.

In the wider context, the urban population, and especially the Green activists, blame farmers for destruction of natural resources through deforestation, pollution etc., and they demand that they should make good these losses at their own cost. But at least in Brazil, the urban population and the Greens totally ignore the fact that most urban sewage goes untreated into rivers and that their internal combustion engines are creating ever more air pollution and greenhouse gases. Farmers, in fact, exploit the land to supply society with cheap agricultural products, and thus they have been passively accepting the destruction of their natural resource assets in the interests of providing the rest of society with cheap living. Therefore, the responsibility, PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE for the preservation of natural resources belongs to society as a whole, and not to any one sector. The Zero Tillage farmer is far ahead of his urban counterparts in this respect and merits not only the recognition of society, but also incentives to ensure continued expansion of the area under ZT and Conservation Agriculture. Table 5 summarizes a number of points where urban society is doing less for the environment than the farmers, which serves to underline the co-responsibility argument enunciated above.

Table 5
A Comparison between the Environmental Impact of Zero Tillage/Conservation Agriculture and that of Urban Areas in Brazil.

Zero Tillage Farmers

Urban and industrial sectors of Society

  • Over 12 million hectares protected against erosion, or nearly one third of the area of annual crops, with proportionately less pollution of rivers and lakes.
  • Minimal progress in sewage treatment and some 50% or more of untreated sewage discharged directly into rivers. Significant progress in garbage treatment in many municipalities.
  • Approximately 50% reduction in diesel fuel consumption and commensurate reduction in GHG emissions.
  • Between 1992 and 1997, gasoline consumption in Brazil rose by 75,6% . However, there was a reduction of 17.2 % of alcohol in the combined fuel total, both factors giving a significant increase in the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG's).
  • A vast carbon sink in increased soil organic matter and crop residues not oxidised by incorporation in the soil; this is equivalent to millions of tons of carbon countrywide.
  • Over the 1992-1997 period there was a drastic reduction in the manufacture of alcohol-driven cars: the consumer's pocket weighed more than his conscience.
  • Reduction in the expansion of the agricultural frontier by producing more food per hectare and incorporating degraded pastures into rotations with crops.
  • Unchecked expansion of urban and industrial areas.
  • A contribution to the preservation of bio-diversity and a measurable positive impact on the populations of terrestrial, soil and aquatic fauna.
  • Huge efforts to manage nature, ecological, forest and Indian reserves with insufficient allocation of funds. The majority of private reserves (APPAS) are the property of rural landowners.
  • ZT made viable for small farmers in the three southern states of Brazil and pilot projects in the tropics, reducing the rural-urban migration and its costs in urban infrastructure
  • With the exception of the "landless" projects, whose sustainability is dubious, continued rural exodus in the tropical areas of the country for lack of adoption incentives and support for ZT technology generation and extension.
  • A reduction in the consumption of agricultural chemicals, lime and fertilizer per ton of food produced.
  • Increase in the total production of garbage and the volume of sewage proportional to the increase in population.
  • Reduced cost of investment in new hydroelectric schemes by increased lifespan for existing schemes. Reductions in the cost of energy generated, firstly, through lower turbine maintenance costs, and secondly, because the cost per unit of generating power is double on new schemes.
  • Ever-increasing demand for power which is responsible for areas lost and other environmental impacts of hydro-electric schemes, or increased GHG emissions from thermal generation of electricity.

The ostensible chink in the armour of ZT is its use of herbicides, causing impassioned cries from Greens against pollution from more chemicals. Uninformed environmentalists, even from the World Bank, have raised this objection. While the latter listen to reason, demagogues bent on impressing a gullible public do not. If society is to approve and support ZT, such deceptive arguments must be disarmed by the true facts. These show that:

And if the above is not enough, van der Klinken has adopted the tactic of suggesting to any detractors of ZT that they cease to drive their cars because, not only do they produce greenhouse gases, but statistically, there is also a proven chance of killing someone. If these risks are acceptable, then others are too. And the overall risks for the environment implied in ZT are far lower than those of Conventional Tillage, if it is continued. In real life, of course, nothing is absolute. Trade-offs, albeit not ideal, are necessary for survival of society as a whole.

Reducing the Pressure to Clear New Land

There are many millions of hectares of degraded pastures in the Amazon and Cerrado regions. ZT technology now exists to turn these pastures into productive cropland, which would reduce the pressure to open new lands for crop production. Especially relevant is the potential to rotate these crop areas with highly productive pastures, allowing absorption of herd growth without the need to form new pastures on newly cleared land. This potential is so great that a total ban on clearing would not have a significant impact on agricultural production for many years. It should be possible to promote a policy of incentives to this end, supported by international funding. The incentives would have to be adequate to cover extraction of old stumps and levelling of irregularities caused by erosion so that the reclamation of these old cleared areas would become significantly more profitable than clearing new land.

Implicitly, this also requires society to put a value on the preservation of native vegetation - something which has not occurred to date - as an incentive to intensification of production on already-cleared land. Although recent Brazilian legislation encourages the establishment of private nature reserves (APPAS), this does not directly affect deforestation outside of these areas.

International Reverberations

Van der Klinken and Swedo Martinez interceded with international organisations for many years but with few concrete results. Then, for the 6th National ZT meeting in Brasilia in 1998, ZTAT took the opportunity of organising an international session to examine how Brazil's experience could be used worldwide. There were representatives from the World Bank, IICA, FAO, and some embassies. This triggered a request from the World Bank to organise a study tour for Bank and borrower countries' professionals, to be executed in the name of BFZTF. It took place in November 1998 with 20 participants and was repeated in 1999 with 22 participants.

On both occasions, natural scepticism turned to enthusiasm and conversion to the principles of Zero Tillage and Conservation Agriculture. Experienced professionals saw real-life farmers, obtaining spectacular results in improved incomes and environmental protection, with almost total erosion control. It was a case of "seeing is believing". Before, during the years that Van der Klinken and Swedo Martinez had been importuning functionaries of these organizations in their distant offices, the story of ZT had seemed to good to be true. ZTAT then organised a tropical study tour, in collaboration with FAO, for representatives from 12 Caribbean countries. (See the next heading for a discussion of how to incorporate ZT into rural development projects).

Another international ramification is through ZTAT's membership of the national federation (BFZTF). This makes ZTAT part of a network of national associations for sustainable agriculture in the Americas (CAAPAS). Appendix 7 shows ZTAT's own organizational structure.

Current organizational structure of ZTAT

CAAPAS, since it was founded ca. 1993, has promoted intensive international exchanges, mostly between South American countries and with USA and Mexico. Organizing guest speakers from abroad ensures rapid transfer of technological advances. Today, partly as a result of the ZTAT groundwork, international agencies are using Brazil as a source expertise and information on ZT and Conservation Agriculture.

Notes on How to Incorporate Zero Tillage into Rural Development Projects

Van der Klinken has accompanied four international study tours in Brazil, made a number of international presentations, and participated in dozens of consultancy missions for international agencies. This has put him in a privileged position to evaluate the reactions of outsiders to the realities of ZT and to assess how to incorporate this technology into rural development projects. The following is an outline of the presentation he developed for World Bank, FAO, and other international entities.

Rural development should be on a watershed basis, with small watersheds as the basic operational units and with Sustainable Intensification of Natural Resources Management (SINRM) as the focus.

In any communal management of natural resources, all stakeholders in the watershed must be involved. Where large and medium farmers exist in a watershed alongside small resource-poor farmers, a perceived conflict is created by targeting of funding with a poverty alleviation/rural poor focus, which is now common among donors and international agencies. However, there is no reason why actions aimed exclusively at environmental protection or community welfare should not be financed or facilitated for a community of different stakeholders. Other actions can be exclusively focussed on rural poverty alleviation, and ZT incentives can be scaled according to farm income - or, less desirably, to farm size.

The box below summarizes the operational elements involved in incorporating this philosophy into a rural development project.

Zero Tillage and Conservation Agriculture are a holistic treatment of SINRM. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that the benefits of ZT are so great for both farmer and society that the expansion of this new sustainable farming system, after validation at farm level, should be the central action of a rural development project. Protection of the environment and poverty alleviation will come as automatic consequences of ZT adoption. Specific actions to achieve these other objectives should be complementary to the whole process of introducing and developing ZT. They should enter at a later stage and not compete for scarce - especially human - resources within the project as a result of being conceived as separate components. Improved farm incomes must come before environmental actions can be acceptable to farmers.

Box 6: Sustainable Integration of Natural Resources Management (SINRM)
  • Premises :
  • Watershed/Microcatchment units;
  • All sizes of landholders;
  • Legal basis for implementation;
  • Farmer empowerment in extension, research and watershed management;
  • Inter-agency and interdisciplinary collaboration ;
  • Financial or other incentives;
  • Mechanisms for rural/urban water use compatibility.

In new agro-ecological environments, the following steps must be followed:

A check list of common expectations and actions required for ZT adoption in Zambia, Uganda and Tanzania, as developed by an FAO mission under the Africa Soil Initiative, is shown below:

Incentives that can be used to encourage adoption of Zero Tillage :

Box 7: Common Expectations and Actions Required for ZT in East/Central Africa

Common Expectations

  • Reduced labour demands
  • Development of ZT systems and their components (cover crops, crop rotations, equipment, weed, pest, and disease management)
  • Formation of inter-disciplinary teams
  • Promotion of ZT systems for small holders through extension agencies. Collect and screen cover crops

Common Actions

  • Acquisition and modification of equipment for ZT systems
  • Seed production for cover crops
  • Design of cropping systems and farming systems (e.g. alternatives for fodder in order to leave residues for soil cover)
  • Training and learning teams
  • Participatory research
  • Training and dissemination
  • Monitoring and Reporting

Source: FAO/AGLS

Farmer empowerment is an essential factor to ensure efficient focussing and execution of SINRM. Traditionally, nearly all government agricultural research and extension services have been top-down, and this was taken to an extreme in the Training and Visit system. Such approaches can work satisfactorily if there is a relatively simple new technology involved, with a high cost/benefit ratio (i.e. a large margin for error) and a wide technical knowledge gap between extensionist and farmer.

This is now not the case in Brazil, where farmer empowerment has led to a bottom-up approach in which farmers, who are acutely good technical observers and economic analysts in their own manner, decide the priorities for research and technical support services. This ensures a sharp focus on quick economic results. Obviously, not all research can have a bottom-up focus, but about 50% in the system would be a good starting point anywhere. Farmer empowerment comes in several ways and it should start with increased farm profits, because this gives the farmer both an incentive and the flexibility to promote change.

These means are listed below:


Requiring Organization and Leadership:

Food security considerations are important. ZT reduces drought risks, increases productivity and reduces inputs - including fuel - per unit of food produced.

The arguments from Section Reducing the pressure to clear new land are important advantages of SINRM with ZT.

1 A group of 6 to 9 companies, mostly multinational herbicide manufactories, which at first joined forces informally to promote ZT and later became known as the Zero Tillage Group.

2 Brazilian Association for Higher Education in Agriculture, an autonomous parastatal organisation.

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