Conservation agriculture improves yields

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Changes in climate and world populations have made it necessary for farmers to adopt better agricultural methods to increase crop yields and income over the long term. Farmers should consider adopting conservation agriculture.

Conservation Agriculture (CA) is a farming method where farmers adopt farming practices that take care of the soil while conserving moisture during entire crop production cycle. The method operates on three basic principles:

i) Disturbing the soil as little as possible (ii) Maintaining permanent soil cover (iii) Practicing intercropping and crop rotation.

Although only about 2 per cent of small-scale farmers practice Conservation Agriculture worldwide, it is considered a useful method that increases farm productivity, and reuses crop residue and related organic material on the farm. There are certain compelling factors that have made some farmers adopt conservation agriculture. These include:

Ploughing: When farmers plough their land they disturb the soil and destroy its structure. Beneficial organisms that support plant life are also destroyed while all the moisture that is retained in the soil evaporates living the soil dry. The poor soil state affects any crop that is planted after ploughing.

Burning of crop residue: Soil cover is very important as it protects the soil from being washed away. It also provides organic matter that recycles essential nutrients that nourish crops. When crop residue is burnt, all the nutrients are destroyed and the soil is left bare. Wind and water runoff both take away the topsoil that contains most of the nutrients that plants require. Farmers practicing conservation agriculture therefore protect the topsoil by conserving crop residue.

Planting of cover crops is another measure farmers use to protect the soil: Most of the cover crops such as lablab, lucerne, calliandra, leucaena, purple vetch or desmodium fix nitrogen into the soil therefore restoring fertility while adding organic matter that retains moisture for use by next crop, which is planted after the cover crop.

To resolve the widespread food insecurity in developing countries such as Kenya, small-scale farmers could consider adopting conservation agriculture. In place of ploughing as has been the tradition, the farmers can consider ripping or direct seeding.

Direct planting (or seeding) on unploughed land otherwise referred to as no-till, zero-tillage or no-tillage serves the first two principles of conservation agriculture. No-tillage translates to a reduction or abolition of the time period between harvest and sowing, maintaining a permanent soil cover for the farm and unlimited supply of quality organic material to the soil in sufficient quantities and regularly, to meet the soil requirements.

The technologies available for this practice ranges from the simple hand operated to the animal drawn (oxen) and tractor operated (no till) planters, all fitted with seed and fertilizer application equipment. The machines come as either single row planter and fertilizer distributor or multiple row planter and fertilizer distributor as shown in pictures. (See pictures)

Apart from increasing moisture, organic material, aeration, soil structure, organic activity and infiltration of water into the soil, conservation agriculture also decreases erosion, moderates temperature, reduces need for equipment. It also prevents soil compaction by tractors, and reduces weeds, fuel costs, equipment maintenance and man hours spent in land preparation.

The African Conservation Tillage Network (ACT) a nongovernmental organization that promotes sustainable agriculture recommends that farmers practicing minimum tillage also add other good farming practices such as timely planting, proper plant spacing and effective weed control; use of improved external inputs improved seeds and proper use of organic fertilizers and pesticides to increase farm productivity.

They should also consider crop-livestock integration and practicing agroforestry – planting fertilizer trees, fodder, fruit, live fences and windbreakers on their farms.

Farmers interested in conservation equipment can contact:

Brazafric Enterprises Ltd. | Mudher, Industrial Park, Along Mombasa Rd, next to Soham Petrol Station - P.O. Box 76561 – 00508, Nairobi / Kenya. Tel: +254 020 2107247 / 2107254/2107259/2107000 | Fax: +254-020-2107263| Cell: +254-724 652560 Email: [email protected] Skype: spec/proj-ke

>>Share your experiences with TOF and fellow farmers. Send email to [email protected],  leave a comment below this article or SMS to 0715 916 136.

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