Conservation agriculture holds considerable promise for farmers in sub-Saharan Africa because it can control soil erosion, reverse land degradation, give more stable yields and reduce labour and fuel needs, according to the FAO.
Unlike conventional farming methods, conservation agriculture disturbs the soil as little as possible. Instead of ploughing, farmers plant their seed directly into the soil and the soil is kept covered. "With conservation agriculture, farmers can produce more food on a sustainable basis, they spend less time and labour on land preparation, fuel consumption for machinery is lower and there is a reduced need for chemicals," said Shivaji Pandey, Director of FAO's Agricultural Support Systems Division.
"The concept contributes directly to the fight against hunger and poverty." Traditional farming in Africa often impoverishes the soil: intensive digging with hand hoes or ploughing has often damaged the soil structure, reduced its ability to hold moisture and has caused wind and water erosion. Water cannot soak into the soil and runs off, carrying topsoil and nutrients with it. Furthermore, many families living with HIV/AIDS and malaria can no longer farm enough land to grow the food they need.
Conservation agriculture is especially attractive for women because it reduces the amount of work they traditionally do in land preparation and weeding.
Conservation agriculture has started to spread in Africa and is being adopted in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Eritrea, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Some farmers have doubled or even tripled their grain yields.