Myths and cultural practices can block farmers’ acceptance of a new technology, particularly the principles of reduced tillage, residue retention, and cropping rotations that underlie conservation agriculture. This was one observation in a recent visit to farmers in four districts in Ethiopia by Australian International Food Security Centre (AIFSC) director, Mellissa Wood, and AIFSC Biosecurity and Food Safety Manager, Dennis Bittisnich.
Posts Tagged ‘Conservation Agriculture’
Fifteen young scientists from SIMLESA partner and spillover countries were recently trained by the Agricultural Research Council of South Africa (ARC-SA) on various aspects of agronomy and innovation learning platforms (ILePs), including conservation agriculture principles, nitrogen fixation, experimental design and field layout, agro-climatology principles, and data collection and analysis.
The Global Conservation Agriculture Program (GCAP) works closely with partners all over the world toward an ultimate vision of widespread use of sustainable systems by smallholder farmers, based on the principles of conservation agriculture (CA). Our key partner in Africa is the African Conservation Tillage Network (ACT). We asked their Executive Secretary, Saidi Mkomwa, about the current status and future of CA in Africa.
ACT was established in 1998. Has Africa seen a big change in CA adoption since then?
Mkomwa: The adoption rate isn’t very big, but we think it’s good. It took Brazil 17 years to get the first one million hectares under CA; it’s been a shorter time in Africa and we have almost reached one million hectares already. It is happening at a slower rate than we would want, but it’s getting there. We have seen partial adoption of CA principles across the continent. For example, during one of our exchange visits to Zambia, we met a woman – we nicknamed her Barefoot Woman – who had no shoes but she was rich and she was proud to be a farmer. She wasn’t practicing all three principles, only reduced tillage combined with some mechanization, but it’s a start.
The International Conservation Agriculture Forum, held at the Ningxia Academy of Agriculture and Forestry Sciences in Yinchuan during 27-31 May, was attended by a significant number of provincial government officials and private sector representatives who joined to discuss national and international partnerships in farming system intensification, mechanization, nutrient-use efficiency, precision agriculture, and training; gain better understanding of what conservation agriculture is; jointly identify needs, priorities, and constraints to broad adoption of conservation agriculture in China; and explore the Cropping Systems Intensification Project for North Asia (CSINA).
The past few weeks have been busy and interesting in China: preparing for the International Conservation Agriculture Forum in Yinchuan and work travels to Beijing, Yangling (Shaanxi province), and Xuchang (Henan province) are a sure way to keep oneself occupied.
Strengthening partnerships in Beijing
I travelled to Beijing during 2-4 May to discuss future cooperation between the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) and the China Agricultural University (CAU) at a meeting with Jan Thomas, USQ vice-chancellor, and K.E. Bingsheng, CAU president, accompanied by the USQ delegation and CAU senior professors. What does this have to do with CIMMYT? Part of my mandate in China is to forge new partnerships, especially with universities seeking to expand internationally. This requires putting on the CIMMYT uniform to demonstrate presence and reinforce linkages with old and new colleagues. As a result, we hope to see a memorandum of understanding and the facilitation of staff and student exchanges between these universities, Ningxia institutions, and CIMMYT.
After months of discussions and debates on the scientific evidence regarding conservation agriculture for small-scale, resource-poor farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, a group of 40 scientists reached a consensus on the goals of conservation agriculture and the research necessary to reach these goals. The discussions leading to the signing of the Nebraska Declaration on Conservation Agriculture on 5 June 2013 began during a scientific workshop on “Conservation agriculture: What role in meeting CGIAR system-level outcomes?” organized by the CGIAR Independent Science and Partnership Council (ISPC) at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, USA, during 15-18 October 2012. Several CIMMYT scientists contributed to the Lincoln workshop and the subsequent draft of the convention. “Not every participant agreed to sign. It went too far for some conservation agriculture purists and not far enough for others. This is usually the case when a consensus between 50 scientists and experts is sought,” said Bruno Gerard, director of CIMMYT’s Global Conservation Agriculture Program (GCAP), pointing to an interesting read in that respect, ‘Conservation agriculture and smallholder farming in Africa: The heretics’ view’ by Giller et al. (2009).
Last week CIMMYT obtained a new hyperspectral camera and thus significantly expanded its remote sensing capabilities. Pablo J. Zarco-Tejada, director of QuantaLab remote sensing laboratory, Instituto de Agricultura Sostenible (IAS), Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Córdoba, Spain, and his team spent 13-17 May 2013 at the Campo Experimental Norman E. Borlaug (CENEB) in Ciudad Obregon, Mexico, installing the new camera on the remote sensing platform they delivered during their last visit in February 2013.
Zarco-Tejada and his team also trained a pilot and CIMMYT staff on the use of the hyperspectral remote sensing equipment, which was obtained through a capacity building project between CIMMYT’s Global Conservation Agriculture Program and QuantaLab-IAS-CSIC, funded by MAIZE and WHEAT CRPs under Strategic Initiative 3.
Conservation agriculture methods enable producers to sustainably intensify production, improve soil health, and minimize or avoid negative externalities. However, these practices have not yet taken off in most Central Asian countries. The FAO Sub-Regional Office for Central Asia, in cooperation with CIMMYT, ICARDA, and the national counterparts, conducted a study on the status of conservation agriculture in Central Asia to develop policy recommendations for its promotion. The document titled “Conservation Agriculture in Central Asia: Status, Policy, Institutional Support, and Strategic Framework for its Promotion” presents the existing opportunities for adoption and uptake of conservation agriculture techniques, as well as the conditions that need to be taken into account in designing and promoting policy and institutional support strategies for its up-scaling.
The value of CIMMYT’s research work is enhanced through partnerships supporting the development and dissemination of new maize production technologies. To encourage this collaboration, the CIMMYT Southern Africa regional office in Harare, Zimbabwe, holds an annual event during which stakeholders from the ministries of agriculture, academic institutions, seed companies, and donor representatives tour field trials and get acquainted with the station’s research outputs.
If asked “What is the most limiting factor to cereal production in sub-Saharan Africa,” most agronomists would say water, nitrogen, or phosphorus. Could farm power also have a place in this list? From 25 to 30 March 2013, a multidisciplinary group of 40 agronomists, agricultural engineers, economists, anthropologists, and private sector representatives from Kenya, Tanzania, Australia, India, and other countries attended a meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, to officially launch the ‘Farm Mechanization & Conservation Agriculture for Sustainable Intensification’ project, supported by the Australian International Food Security Centre (AIFSC) and managed by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). The meeting focused largely on planning for activities that will take place in Kenya and Tanzania, but the project will eventually explore opportunities to accelerate the delivery and adoption of two-wheel tractors (2WTs) based conservation agriculture (CA) and other 2WT-based technologies (transport, shelling, threshing) by smallholders in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. This project will be implemented over the next four years by CIMMYT and its partners.