Conservation Agriculture

Why we do it?

Approximately one-third of the planet’s soils are degraded. In many countries, intensive crop production has depleted soils, to the extent that future production in these areas is jeopardized. Healthy soils are key to developing sustainable crop production systems that are resilient to the effects of climate change. They contain a diverse community of organisms that help to control plant diseases, insect and weed populations; recycle soil nutrients; and improve soil structure with positive effects on water holding capacity, nutrient retention and supply and levels of organic carbon.

Conservation Agriculture is 20 to 50% less labour intensive and thus contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions through lower energy inputs and improved nutrient use efficiency. At the same time, it stabilizes and protects soil from breaking down and releasing carbon to the atmosphere.

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

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