Day 1: Conservation Agriculture "Virtual"Field Workshop in Brazil

Read Introductory Blog for Workshop

On the morning of the opening day of the workshop the group of around 25 workshop participants gathered in the conference room of a Curitiba hotel. Many had travelled for over 24 hours to reach Curitiba, but soon after breakfast we were up and running with the day’s programme. Much of it concentrated on the background on conservation agriculture (CA), and challenges that African countries are facing in its adoption.

Herbert Bartz (at left), a pioneer conservation agriculture adopter in Brazil in the early 1970's (and now President of the Brazilian CA Federation), told the group how he borrowed money to visit an American farmer in Kentucky to learn about CA, and imported the first no-till planter into Brazil.

In his presentation, Dr. Abednego Kiwia, a soil health programme coordinator of AGRA, stated that a major challenge for smallholder agriculture in Africa today is poor soil fertility and consequent low productivity levels. This, he said, due to numerous reasons, including diverse agro-ecologies and farming systems, limited national R&D capacity, over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture, and inadequate enabling of agricultural policies and investments. The presentations of seven AGRA-projects participating in the workshop further identified problems for African agriculture, including high levels of food insecurity, low farm income, unsustainable use of inorganic fertilizer, and limited or no market access for both inputs and outputs. Nevertheless, several African participants highlighted positive outcomes from initial CA experiences, including increased yields and improved food security and household income.

Researcher Dr. Marc Corbeels from CIRAD provided an analysis of yield trends in controlled rainfed CA experiments (see his ppt below), highlighting that while long term yield increases are observed, in the short term yields decrease on average, indicating a major hurdle for adoption of CA by poor smallholders. In addition, he said, CA brings trade-offs, including competing uses for crop residues that can lead to excessive removal of ground cover, difficulties in keeping grazing cattle off of the field after harvest, and shifting in labor patterns (less labour is needed for tilling, but more labour input is required for weeding). Also, he noted that due to poor functioning of markets farmers have limited access to necessary inputs, including herbicides and no-till equipment. Finally, he stressed that CA is knowledge-intensive and must necessarily be tailored to a large diversity of farmers and agro-ecological conditions.

Stephen Lyimo from Tanzania emphasised that the adoption of CA required a change in mindsets for smallholders: they need to be shown both the yield and income analysis before changing their strategies. Finally, as Patrick D’Addario from the organizing LaGuardia Foundation noted, while the participants will see plenty of options during the workshop, there is not a recipe to follow, "nothing to copy:" each project must find local solutions for uptake and upscaling of CA.

Stay with us for Day 2. From tomorrow, we will have our first demonstration: weed control through the use of cover crop and the use of the knife roller!!

Don't miss the demonstration video and reactions from our representative voices from Tanzania, Mozambique and Mauritania.