Conservation Agriculture and its Community of Practice






You might be well aware, but a short introduction to the subject is due

What is Conservation Agriculture

Conservation Agriculture (CA) is an approach to managing agro-ecosystems for improved and sustained productivity, increased profits and food security while preserving and enhancing the resource base and the environment. CA is characterized by three linked principles, namely:

  1. Continuous no or minimum mechanical soil disturbance and whenever possible, seeding or planting directly into untilled soil, in order to maintain soil organic matter, soil structure and overall soil health.
  2. Enhancing and maintaining permanent organic soil cover using crops, cover crops or crop residues. This protects the soil surface, conserves water and nutrients, promotes soil biological activity and contributes to integrated weed and pest management.
  3. Diversification of crop species – both annual and perennials- grown in associations, sequences and rotations that can include trees, shrubs, pastures and crops, all contributing to enhanced crop nutrition and improved system resilience

Mulching reduces evaporation and provides other benefits as well / Photo: V.H. de Freitas

CA principles are universally applicable to all agricultural landscapes and land uses with locally adapted practices. CA principles can be applied to most rain-fed and irrigated crop production systems — arable systems, horticulture, agro-forestry and plantation systems — on all farm sizes and with all farm power sources to generate greater productivity, socio-economic and environmental benefits with less production inputs, CA enhances biodiversity and natural biological processes above and below the ground surface. Soil interventions such as mechanical soil disturbance are reduced to an absolute minimum or avoided, and external inputs such as agrochemicals and plant nutrients of mineral or organic origin are applied optimally and in ways and quantities that do not interfere with, or disrupt, the biological processes.
CA facilitates good agronomy and whole farm management, such as timely operations, and improves overall land husbandry for rainfed and irrigated production. Complemented by other known good practices, including the use of quality seeds, and integrated pest, nutrient, weed and water management, etc., CA is a base for sustainable agricultural production intensification. It opens increased options for integration of production sectors, such as crop-livestock integration and the integration of trees and pastures into agricultural landscapes. At the landscape and territorial levels, CA offers the possibility of large-scale harnessing of ecosystem services beyond biological products such as clean water, carbon sequestration, erosion and pest control, nutrient and water cycling, biodiversity enhancement, and pollination services.
CA is now adopted on more than 125 million ha worldwide, which corresponds to about 9% of the total cropland. Some 50% of this area is located in the developing regions. During the past decade, it has been expanding with an average rate of more than 7 million ha per year. Highest adoption levels, exceeding 50% of the cropland, are found in the southern part of South America, Canada and Australia. Fast adoption rates are now being seen in Central Asia and China, alongside increasing policy support and early large scale adoption taking place across Africa, particularly in Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Morocco and Tunisia. Europe has now some few pockets of adoption, particularly in Finland, Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland.

You can read more about Conservation Agriculture at www.fao.org/ag/ca and join the Conservation Agriculture community of practice (CA-CoP) which is hosted by FAO and moderated by Amir Kassam.