Conservation Agriculture vs Conventional Farming: a head to head comparison

by Jabu Matsebula

A picture is worth a thousand words. In the picture above - Pholile Sihlongonyane is standing in a furrow that divides her field at Makhundlu in Swaziland. The plot on her left is identical in terms of area, soil type and water availability to the plot on her right. The plots were planted on the same day.

In each plot she planted maize inter-cropped with jugo beans and cow peas.

On the left of the picture, you can actually see the size of the robust maize stalks. The stalks on the right of the picture are pretty thin.

On the left you can see the rapid development of the mealie cobs. But most strikingly, is the foliage of the jugo beans, which are robust and green. On the right, you can just about see the foliage if you closely inspect the floor behind the third maize stalk. The inter-crop is so sparse it’s hardly visible.

The picture demonstrates the difference in performance of a field cultivated using the conventional system and one where climate smart processes were applied.

The robust field on the left was cultivated using conservation agriculture practices, including soil covered with mulch. This can be seen between the row of jugo beans and maize.

Pholile is a champion for conservation agriculture practitioners in the Lower Usuthu Sustainable Land Management project area.  The project is supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and implemented through the Swaziland Water and Development Enterprise (SWADE) and the Ministry of Agriculture. The project helps communities in rain-fed areas to develop sustainable livelihood solutions including water harvesting, conservation agriculture, enterprise development and regenerate degraded lands.