Day 3 – Conservation Agriculture Success? Institutional Partnerships with research and farmers at the center

Today we visited a thriving smallholder farm as well as IAPAR’s research station in Pato Branco. In the 1970s and 1980s Parana State was losing 100 tonnes of soil per hectare per year - that’s a loss rate of 1 centimetre/ha per year, while it takes nature 400 years to make 1 centimetre per year of soil! (source: IAPAR, Parana State Agricultural Research Institute) Something needed to be done.

So in the early 1970s, soon after Herbert Bratz made his pioneering trip to the USA, IAPAR began research into conservation agriculture methods. What has become crystal clear to the workshop participants, is that integrated institutional partnerships – with farmers themselves and their associations and cooperatives at the center– are necessary for changing mindsets and affecting change. The hard work paid off beginning in the early 1990s when the number of hectares under CA began to skyrocket.

One of the keys to the success of CA in Parana state was a focus on its crop-livestock systems. Not only permanent soil cover, but also more livestock forage was necessary, and IAPAR’s research helped determine which winter crops could best serve as both cover crops and forage for dairy cattle. Before 1992 there was almost no no-till in Parana State, while now, 20 years later, it is almost all no-till. Of course, IAPAR has not achieved this alone – it has worked with the national extension service, EMATER, with EMBRAPA, with municipalities, with SEAB, with FEBRAPDP, often sharing and embedding staff.

On the bus ride back to town, participants from AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) and Lesotho stressed that demonstrations need to be guided by researchers and extension staff, but also carried out in farmers’ fields, so farmers can see firsthand the comparative advantages, benefits and costs of adopting conservation agriculture. An EMBRAPA participant enthusiastically agreed, saying this was the modus operandi in Parana State and elsewhere in Brazil.

Pictured at left, (Marietha Owenya, SARI, Tanzania) Marc Corbeels (CIRAD) and Waltteri Katajamaki (IFAD).


Vidhya Das said…
this is indeed a very interesting e-workshop. Thankyou for inviting our participation. I have some questions: What are the major methods followed for weed control, what crops are the farmers growing, are they working on sloping uplands? what is the irrigation source? what have been the changes in croppings since no-till was begun, what are the herbicides used, do the farmers use indigenous seeds?

In India, specially in the tribal regions, farmers are loosing out because of the high degree of erosion. We are working in a very small way to introduce zero-till cultivation with these farmers, on highly eroded lands, where the topsoil has been almost completely washed out. Yet, with the farmers' enthusiasm, we have have already had some significant successes with legumes, and are looking forward to upscaling the efforts in the subsequent years.

I am really glad to be participating in this workshop and look forward to more inputs with some of the questions above answered, so that we can learn from the Brazilian examples.

Marc Corbeels said…
I think that we have to go beyond CA demonstration plots. Tailoring of CA options to the specific conditions of a group of farmers implies farmers experimenting with CA - facilitated by researchers and extension workers.
Jeff Brez said…
Vidhya, We are just up this am and getting on our bus. Will answer in full all of your excellent questions later tonight. Quickly though, this area gets plenty of rain - 1700 mm per year, with 1000mm in sumer and 700 mm in winter, on average. They are farming lots of steep slopes. Main summer crops are soybeans, maize, tobacco, beans, cassava and main winter crops (cover crops) are oats, black oats, wheat, winter maize, radish, peas and others.
Dr. Ricardo Ralisch, FEBRAPDP and U of Londrina said…
Vidhya - more answers to your questions. This answer is from Dr. Ricardo Ralisch of FEBRAPDP (no till federation) and University of Londrina: On weed control, the most used system is herbicides, usually glyphosate. Nowadays we have some experience with mechanical control to reduce the use of herbicides. The most important way to do that is with the knife roller, which both manages the cover crop and smothers the weeds. Of course some farmers also weed manually using a hoe to make sure weeds don't flower. We are learning a lot about organic soybean production - without ANY chemicals - the key is to have the right combination of crop / cover crop and good management of the cover crop. Also, some plants can have a reducing effect on certain weeds, like black oats.

On irrigation, as Jeff mentioned this region is quite rainy, so there is not really a need for irrigation in this region (there is a short dry season in the winter during the month of July). But we have some systems using irrigation to improve yields, for example, pasture irrigation to increase grass / fodder during the winter to stabilize milk production. The irrigation systems are small sprinkler systems.

Since no-till began, there has not really been a change in crops. The big change was the introduction of cover crops in winter which increased the amount of fodder available for dairy cows. That said, some varieties are better adapted to no-till, so it is important to screen different varieties. For example we are using different varieties of maize and beans, depending on the micro-environment for the control of pests and diseases. For corn we are regularly planting 500 varieties / hybrid, and for legumes, 15 - 20 varieties, with new ones coming each year. What is important is the microenvironment: soil type, moisture content, type of pests... all highly dependent on the microenvironment. Biggest changes occur in the top 10 cm of soil.

On the use of indigenous seeds, here farmers are not using them so much because newly developed seeds are performing better.

[Rafael Fuentes, IAPAR, also contributed to this response]