AGRA: Experiences and capabilities in Africa

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To be used for the Project Breadbasket workshop in Brazil 10th -16th July 2011.

To be used for the Project Breadbasket workshop in Brazil 10th -16th July 2011.

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  • 1. AGRA: EXPERIENCE AND CAPABILITIES IN AFRICA<br />Conservation agriculture: promising interventions and way forward for AGRA Bashir Jama, PhD Director, Soil Health AGRA Nairobi, Kenya<br />Background<br />AGRA is about triggering a uniquely African Green Revolution which increases agricultural productivity and does so in an environmentally sound manner. Key to this is extending Conservation Agriculture (CA) practices to smallholder farmers that make the bulk of the farming community in Sub-Sahara Africa. AGRA is committed to doing this through the research and development programs that it is supporting.<br />Key CA Principles<br />From the perspectives of AGRA, there are 5 principles of CA that need to be promoted:<br />Practice minimum tillage. Plant in basins and do not till the rest of the land unless it is necessary. Weeds can be controlled through a combination of herbicides that are biodegradable, e.g., glycophosphate and crop rotations especially with legume cover crops.<br />Practice rotation and diversification of crops. Rotations involving legumes whether they are grain yielding or not (e.g., herbaceous fodder species, others that provide ground cover, agroforestry trees, etc) can generally help improve soil fertility through biological fixation of atmospheric nitrogen as well as the biomass they add which enhances soil organic matter upon decomposition. For biological nitrogen fixation to happen well, the seeds of the legumes must be inoculated with the appropriate rhizobium at least for the first time and especially for legumes that are not native to the region. Many species are, however, not specific in their rhizobium needs and can be inoculated by what already exists in the soil. Besides improving soil nitrogen, other benefits of crop rotations and diversification include a progressive improvement in soil structure, reduction of pests and diseases, and increase in productivity. Besides crop rotations and diversification, other good agronomic practices that need to practice include soil and water conservation. This will include terracing on sloping lands and planting trees and other vegetation to secure them.<br />Maintain permanent cover of the soil where possible. This can be done through mulch of crop residues or through the use of live cover crops. A typical challenge with mulch cover is consumption by termites and grazing by livestock during the dry season. A potential solution could be to use cover crops such as mucuna (velvet beans), Dolichos lablab and perennial crops such as pigeon peas. Agroforestry trees such as Faidherbia<br />albida and Tephrosia candida could also provide appropriate cover. F. albida, which native to many regions of Africa, is particularly interesting because it has leaves and <br />good canopy cover during the dry season but, unlike most trees, losses them during the rainy season. Through the fallen leaves, it returns a lot of nutrients to the soil and does not shade crops growing in its vicinity.<br />Use improved seeds and fertilizers. This is essential for increasing the productivity of the system. Farmers will be discouraged from adopting a farming practice that is not productive. CA is not the same as organic farming where some groups discourage the use of yield-enhancing inputs fertilizers and improved seeds.<br />Link farmers better to markets. It is important that access to markets are thought through and developed right from the inception of the program. Lack of markets is often a major cause of lack of sustainable adoption of technologies by farmers. One to improve market access is to strengthen farmers association (helps reduce transaction costs) and establish real time market information systems for the farmers.<br />Successful CA projects<br />There are many pilot projects on CA all over all over the world, including Africa. A stocktaking workshop in July 2008 at FAO, Rome, by over 100 people from 40 countries concluded that there is now sufficient evidence from a wealth of experience amongst both small and large-scale farmers that CA works. <br />One project in Africa that has had significant success with CA is in Zambia. With the support of Conservation Farmers Unit of Zambia National Farmers Union, about 150,000 farmers (both commercial and smallholders) have reportedly been reached over the past 10 years with the ‘best-bet’ CA practices described above. Minimum tillage is practiced by planting in the same hole that receives fertilizer, lime and farmyard manure where it is available each year for at least 3 years. In addition, maize in rotation with legumes (especially soybean) is an important feature of this project. <br />Scaling up of the program has mainly been through the farmer to farmer approach that utilizes lead farmers. Lead farmers receive as incentives bicycles and coupons for some seeds and fertilizers. They do not receive any cash. Some of the impacts achieved by the project include:<br />Increase in maize yields of 30% in droughty years in CA systems compared to conventional agriculture practice.<br />Increase and more stable maize yields under smallholder production system from 1.3 to 7.0 tons per hectare.<br />Significant savings in farm labour that goes to land preparation and weeding<br />Reduced runoff and soil erosion, enhanced stream flow and water quality, sequestration of additional carbon, and lower environmental pollution.<br />A smallholder farmer in Zambia with maize produced through the conservation <br />Agriculture practice described above (April 2009)<br />Maize and legume rotation (April 2009) in a conservation agriculture <br />farm in Zambia. The trees in the system are Faidherbia albida. They are legumes, <br />and lose their leaves during the cropping season and gain them during the dry season.<br />4. Way Forward for AGRA<br />There is, indeed, a wealth of experience amongst both small and large-scale farmers under very diverse agro-ecological and socio-economic situations to justify the vigorous promotion of CA and related practices as a substitute for intensive tillage-based farming methods in many parts of the world. AGRA will, therefore, support the scale up of best-bet CA practices such as those emerging from Zambia through the grants it is making in various countries within its seeds, soils and markets programs. The programs are currently rolling out large scale projects that target between 20,000 and 30,000 farmers over 3-4 years along the value chain. The projects are initially targeting 13 focal countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia, Mozambique, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger and Ghana. The projects will be implemented through strategic partners and partnerships, including national and international research and development organizations. Farmers will be exposed to the various practices of CA, including those in Zambia and Brazil, and supported to experiment and innovate in their adaptation process. This is important given that there is nothing like one size fits all. <br />At the pan-Africa level, AGRA will work closely with the NEPAD/CAADP leadership in seeking national and development partners support for farmers to adopt CA practices at scale. NEPAD/CAADP wants to position agriculture, especially CA, as the key intervention for adaptation to climate change at the 2012 Rio-2 conference at Copenhagen, Denmark. Towards this goal, NEPAD/CAADP aims at getting 2 million smallholder farmers practicing CA by 2012. AGRA supports this vision. It will contribute to the target number of farmers through the various large scale and integrated projects that it is rolling out in 13 countries. <br /> AGRA will also contribute to the dialogue and debate on key investments and policies necessary to achieve the large scale adoption required. Farmers will, for instance, need affordable financing to buy the improved seeds and fertilizers needed to increase productivity. In many countries, farmers will need secure land use rights. This particularly important given that they will have to make investments in interventions that have long term perspectives – planting trees, putting soil and water conservation measures in place, and building soil organic through the return of residues and minimum tillage. <br />