In the face of changing weather patterns due to climate change and increasing demand for food, conservation agriculture (CA) aims to achieve sustainable and profitable agriculture and improve farmers’ livelihoods. Here are five key aspects of CA that you should know about:
CA meets three fundamental principles:
Direct seeding involves growing crops without mechanical preparation of the soil and with minimal soil disturbance from the previous harvest.
Permanent soil cover is important to: protect the soil from the harmful effects of exposure to rain and sun, provide soil micro and macro organisms with a constant supply of “food”, and alter the soil microclimate for optimal growth and development of soil organisms, including plant roots.
Crop rotation is not only necessary to provide a varied “diet” for soil microorganisms but, as crops take root at different depths in the soil, they are able to explore different layers for nutrients.
CA helps to combat climate change
Just because the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly noticeable does not mean that we should give up on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. By having more organic matter, soils in which conservation agriculture is practised can retain the carbon in carbon dioxide and store it safely for long periods of time.
The consumption of fossil fuels for agricultural production is also significantly reduced in CA and the burning of crop residues is completely eliminated, which also contributes to a reduction in GHG emissions.
JI offers diversification opportunities to small farmers
CA has direct consequences that have the potential to modify the daily and seasonal calendar and, in the long term, the rhythm of the peasant family, since the labor needed for tilling, land preparation and weeding is less. Having more time available offers real opportunities for diversification options, such as poultry farming or on-farm sales or other small non-agricultural business initiatives.
FAO argues that small farmers should be helped to increase production. This support should include legal land tenure, comprehensive policies for a level playing field, access to capital and markets, structured training, and investment in technology and infrastructure.
CA contributes to reducing the energy and agricultural labour required
One of the most noticeable changes for the farmer is the decrease in agricultural energy and labour required. CA contributes to reduce the agricultural energy needed for agricultural production by up to 60% compared to conventional agriculture.
This is because most energy-intensive operations, such as tillage, are eliminated. In addition, investment in equipment, especially regarding the number and size of tractors, is significantly reduced. This effect also applies to small farmers who use only manual labour or animal traction.
We all have a role to play
Maintaining the momentum of agricultural productivity growth will remain crucial in the coming decades if basic food production is to increase by 60 percent to meet the expected growth in demand.
Food is one of our most basic needs, so by reducing food loss and waste, adopting lower-impact diets or investing in sustainable agriculture such as conservation agriculture, countries, businesses and consumers can make a difference.