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Conservation Agriculture in AFRICA: Analysing and FoReseeing its Impact - Comprehending its Adoption

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Securing livelihoods and food production in Africa

Small farms in Africa vary tremendously in many ways, making the implementation of sustainable agriculture a complex undertaking. EU funding is enabling a thorough investigation of relevant agricultural success stories to enhance the impact of such efforts.

Climate Change and Environment icon Climate Change and Environment

Nearly two thirds of the African population depends on agriculture for its livelihood. Conservation agriculture (CA) aims at increasing agricultural sustainability by decreasing soil degradation, which also bodes well for higher crop yields and lower production costs. However, smallholder farms in Africa are extremely heterogeneous in terms of agro-ecological, socio-economical and cultural conditions. Despite the wealth of research and development programs promoting CA in Africa, the adoption of pertinent recommendations has met with limited success, largely due to the requirement of local adaptations. In order to remedy this situation, scientists initiated the EU-funded project 'Conservation agriculture in Africa: Analysing and foreseeing its impact - comprehending its adoption' (CA2AFRICA). CA2AFRICA has gathered experts from Africa, Europe and the international research community to evaluate CA success stories in which the socio-economic position of landholders has been enhanced. Case studies across five regions of Africa are helping to identify the most relevant factors at field, farm and regional scales leading to the adoption or rejection of CA. An online reference database.on CA was created. From biophysical crop and soil models at the field scale to simulations of trade-offs in allocation of resources at the farm and village scale, investigators were able to get a handle on important determinants of the adoption of CA techniques. Scientists also developed a tailor-made qualitative expert assessment tool (QAToCA) to determine the potential impact of CA adoption in the case study areas and regions and analyse the higher-scale factors of adoption. The results showed that CA has a potential to increase crop yields in the fields, especially under conditions of erratic rainfall and over the long term as a result of a gradual increase of overall soil quality. The impact on farm income is far less evident, and depends on the type of farm. The lack of an immediate increase in farm income explains in many cases the non-adoption of CA. Smallholders have often short-term time horizons: future benefits do not adequately outweigh the immediate needs. Another key factor that explains the limited CA adoption in mixed crop-livestock farming systems is the fact that crop harvest residues are preferably used as fodder for livestock, preventing their use as soil cover in CA systems. Finally, good markets for purchase of inputs and sale of produce – a key prerequisite condition for adoption of new technologies- are often lacking. The results of the project showed clear evidence for the need to target end users (not all farmers are potential end user of CA) and adapt CA systems to the local circumstances of the farmers. At this point, the farmer’s investment capacity in the practice of CA and the compatibility of CA with the his/her production objectives and existing farming activities need to be considered. CA2AFRICA sought to increase the understanding of (non)adoption of CA on heterogeneous smallholder farms. Simultaneously the project intended to increase its positive impact through building on successes, increasing collaborations, providing the necessary tools for assessment and evaluation and orienting future research on CA.

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