Conservation agriculture reduces climate risks throughout Southern Africa
Conservation agriculture research in Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe by the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE) has generated scientific evidence on the productivity, profitability, and environmental, social and human impacts of conservation agriculture. This research has been used in all target countries to inform policies toward more climate-smart agriculture adaptation interventions.
Farmer adoption of conservation agriculture practices (defined by minimum soil disturbance, maintaining soil cover, and crop diversification through rotations or intercropping) covers more than 627,000 hectares in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, with yield benefits of 30% to 50% (up to 140%) under drought conditions.
Farmer adoption of conservation agriculture practices covers more than 627,000 hectares in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, with yield benefits of 30% to 50% (up to 140%) under drought conditions.
Through Total LandCare, a regional nongovernmental organization (NGO), more than 200,000 farmers have been reached with conservation agriculture in Malawi alone. Other NGOs in Zimbabwe and Zambia have supported the adoption and scaling of conservation agriculture systems. In 2020, the Government of Zimbabwe introduced a nationwide campaign to advance the conservation agriculture-based “Pfumvudza” concept — a crop production intensification approach under which farmers ensure the efficient use of resources in small, targeted land units — building on previous scientific evidence generated by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and its partners within MAIZE and local NGOs.
The targeted number of farmers for this effort in Zimbabwe was 1.8 million, with a reported uptake of finally 2.2 million with a four-fold increase in maize production in the 2020/21 cropping season, making Zimbabwe self-sufficient in maize grain, which has not been the case for decades.
MAIZE/CIMMYT has incrementally conducted regional on-farm and on-station trials since 2004 in more than 50 trial locations (on-farm communities and research stations) with approximately 300 replicated and unreplicated researcher/extension-managed trials. In addition, 4,000 farmer-managed smaller scaling plots were established to test technologies across different agro-ecologies (soil types, rainfall regimes, and farm types) under farmer conditions and management.
What was previously a relatively unknown system is now mainstreamed in national policies and dialogues.
Agronomic research was supported by detailed socio-economic research in target communities to understand the economic benefits of conservation agriculture. While the benefits of conservation agriculture have been clearly demonstrated on farmers’ fields, its adoption has remained lower than expected. Thus, a new research area includes detailed investigations into farmers’ decision-making, harnessing economic entry points and smallholder appropriate-scale mechanization to overcome the barriers to conservation agriculture adoption.
Research results and long-term data on conservation agriculture have enriched the discussions on climate-smart agriculture and associated policies in southern Africa. What was previously a relatively unknown system is now mainstreamed in national policies and dialogues. Zimbabwe’s National Agriculture Policy Framework 2018-2030 and Climate Policy and the Climate Change Response Strategy aim at promoting sustainable agricultural intensification, reducing vulnerability, promoting technology transfer, building capacity, and sharing information.
Zambia’s National Agriculture Policy 2012-2030 and its National Disaster Management Policy and the Policy on Climate Change promote the adoption of appropriate climate-friendly agricultural technologies (including conservation agriculture) for different agro-ecological zones.
Malawi’s National Climate Change Management Policy highlights the negative impact of climate change on rural farming households, holding promise for further implementation of conservation agriculture in the country.