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).