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Conservation Agriculture Better for Environment Communities and Ecosystems

Conservation Agriculture Better for Environment Communities and Ecosystems

20 November 2013

ANALYSIS - Adopting a system of Conservation Agriculture can increase yields while conserving water and mineral resources, writes Chris Harris.

The system that largely involves a system of no tillage has been put forward by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations for farms largely in developing regions where the preservation of the land has become an essential part of sustainable farming.

The message was spelt out plainly during the Agritechnica exhibition in Hannover last week as a special forum on rice production, which highlighted techniques for production and land management particularly for regions such as Africa, Asia and Latin America.

According to Amir Karran, speaking during the event, five years of no till land management could be enough to see the soil structure suitable for Conservation Agriculture.

He said that at present there are 125 million hectares of land under this system of agriculture, which is nine per cent of the total global arable land, with about half in the developing world.

Since 1990 the amount of land that has been set to no till and conservation agriculture has been increasing by between six and eight million hectares a yhear with a more rapid increase of between nine and 10 million hectares over the last few years.

“Extra yiled can be anything from 400 per cent to zero, but it means that you are using less fertiliser, less machinery and less fuel and labour and water needs can be down by up to 30 per cent,” he said.

He added that it is a system that is adapting to the demands of climate change and means that the land infrastructure maintenance is reduced.

He said that areas of Brazil where it has been used have seen an increase in yields and production of around 50 per cent.

Mr Karran added that the system of Conservation Agriculture is also starting to be introduced into rise production both in level paddies and also in permanent water systems.

He said that no till rice is being planted in South Korea in wheat stubble with no puddling and it is also being introduce in other regions using the System of Rice Intensification, using straw as a mulch to help conserve water and also to keep weeds down and also to help feed the soil.

The system of Conservation Agriculture relies on three main principles – permanent soil cover, minimal soil disturbance and crop rotations.

The system where rice has been planted in wheat stubble sees a drop of vegetables planted following the rice.

Ther FAO says that the design of crop rotations and the management of cover crops must ensure that the biomass production is sufficient to satisfy all the needs (food and other crops, livestock feed and residue cover on the soil) and that the soil, water and nutrient resources are adequate for the crop.

Planting can be done through direct seeing or planting through or broadcasting into the soil cover.

Through crop residue management the formation of the soil structure is stimulated by the fauna, improving fertility and helping to control weeds without the dependence on herbicides.

The FAO says that the transition stage using no tillage methods usually takes about two years, but the full benefits of the Conservation Agriculture system will be seen after five years, where mechanical tillage is replaced by biological tillage through crop roots and the fauna and the soil fertility, water and nutrients are managed by soil cover, crop rotation and weed management.

  • Picture courtesy of the FAO

Chris Harris

Chris Harris

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