Limits of conservation agriculture to overcome low crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa

Corbeels, M and Naudin, K and Whitbread, A M and Kühne, R and Letourmy, P (2020) Limits of conservation agriculture to overcome low crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa. Nature Food (TSI), 1 (7). pp. 447-454. ISSN 2662-1355

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Conservation agriculture (CA) has become a dominant paradigm in scientific and policy thinking about the sustainable intensification of food production in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet claims that CA leads to increasing crop yields in African smallholder farming systems remain controversial. Through a meta-analysis of 933 observations from 16 different countries in sub-Saharan African studies, we show that average yields under CA are only slightly higher than those of conventional tillage systems (3.7% for six major crop species and 4.0% for maize). Larger yield responses for maize result from mulching and crop rotations/intercropping. When CA principles are implemented concomitantly, maize yield increases by 8.4%. The largest yield benefits from CA occur in combination with low rainfall and herbicides. We conclude that although CA may bring soil conservation benefits, it is not a technology for African smallholder farmers to overcome low crop productivity and food insecurity in the short term.

Item Type: Article
Divisions: Research Program : Innovation Systems for the Drylands (ISD)
CRP: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Conservation agriculture, Sub Saharan Africa
Subjects: Others > Smallholder Farmers
Others > Crop Yield
Others > Sub-Saharan Africa
Depositing User: Mr Arun S
Date Deposited: 23 Aug 2020 14:18
Last Modified: 23 Aug 2020 14:18
Official URL:
Acknowledgement: This work was implemented as part of the CGIAR Research Programs on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and Maize, which are carried out with support from the CGIAR Trust Fund and through bilateral funding agreements. The views expressed in this document cannot be taken to reflect the official opinions of these organizations.
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