Lessons from the field – Zimbabwe’s Conservation Agriculture Task Force

Twomlow, S J and Urolov, J C and Jenrich, M and Oldrieve, B (2008) Lessons from the field – Zimbabwe’s Conservation Agriculture Task Force. Journal of SAT Agricultural Research, 6 (1). pp. 1-11.

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In the drier areas of southern Africa, farmers experience drought once every two to three years. Relief agencies have traditionally responded to the resulting famines by providing farmers with enough seed and inorganic fertilizer to enable them to re-establish their cropping enterprises. However, because of the lack of appropriate land and crop management interventions, vulnerable farmers are not necessarily able to translate these relief investments in seeds and fertilizer into sustained gains in productivity and incomes. A broad-based Task Force, led by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) Emergency Office in Zimbabwe, is showing that relief and development are not mutually exclusive. Relief investments can be structured so as to yield both short- and long-term impacts. In 2004 the Task Force brainstormed a conservation farming strategy appropriate to the needs of vulnerable households with limited or no draft power. The strategy encompasses four major principles: (i) high management standard; (ii) minimum tillage – for instance, using planting basins which concentrate limited water and nutrient resources to the plant with limited labor input; (iii) the precision application of small doses of nitrogenbased fertilizer to achieve higher nutrient efficiency (from basal applications of organic and/or inorganic sources); and (iv) combining improved fertility with improved seed for higher productivity. These basic principles are taught and demonstrated to farmers who choose crop mixtures adapted to their local conditions and household resource constraints. This Precision Conservation Agriculture (PCA) spreads labor for land preparation over the dry seasons and encourages more timely planting, resulting in reduction of peak labor loads at planting, and higher productivity and incomes. Over the past three years, the PCA approach has been promoted by non-governmental organizations and national agricultural research and extension departments throughout Zimbabwe. It has consistently increased average cereal yields by 50 to 200% in more than 40,000 farm households (with the yield increase varying by rainfall regime, soil types and fertility, and market access). Rather than simply handing free seed and fertilizer inputs to farmers, teaching farmers PCA principles enables them to apply inputs (water, fertilizer and seed) more efficiently. The pursuit of input-use efficiency provides higher and more sustainable productivity gains needed to achieve better food security in drought-prone farming systems. The Task Force has generated (and quantified) substantial impacts in a short period; laid the foundation for sustainable development in a poor, drought-prone country; and provided lessons for future relief investment initiatives that will be valuable throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: Others > Agriculture-Farming, Production, Technology, Economics
Depositing User: Library ICRISAT
Date Deposited: 27 Oct 2011 14:32
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2011 09:03
URI: http://oar.icrisat.org/id/eprint/2704
Official URL:
Acknowledgement: UNSPECIFIED
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