Conservation Agriculture - Brief Description
In most Arab countries population is growing at a fast rate, more than 2.0% per year. Consequently the food demand is increasing. The objective of many Governments in the region is to aim at a higher degree of self-sufficiency, as a result agricultural production is often highly subsidised. However, the agricultural growth potential is limited due to climatic and geographic conditions. Agricultural production cannot keep pace with the population growth rates. Furthermore, while soils are basically fertile and productive, continuous soil degradation and increasing water scarcity are threatening agricultural productivity. Major reasons for this development include the intensification of production through use of extractive production methods and overgrazing.
In many regions soil erosion caused by water and wind, general soil degradation, unpredicatable weather conditions, including frequent droughts are all aspects farmers have to contend with. Precious rain water is lost by run-off instead of being infiltrated and stored in the ground. Traditionally, yield levels could only be maintained with ever increasing inputs, fertilizers and irrigation water. Higher production costs (also as a result of increasing costs of fuel and other inputs) have reduced farm incomes thus severely affecting the livelihoods of the farmers. Farmers need to change to more sustainable, productive and profitable ways of production that do not damage the soil, land and environment.
The present wide-spread practice of crop production requires farmers to plough the soil in order to loosen it and to bury weeds and the residues of previous crops and after harrowing the field a fine seedbed is created. To maintain fertility there is an increasing reliance on use of inorganic fertilizers to replace the soil nutrients. Current common advice to farmers both from government agricultural sector and private input suppliers is to increase agricultural through more frequent cultivation, higher levels of fertilizer and pesticide applications and the use of improved input intensive seed varieties.
Over the past decades this process has ensured that agricultural production has been able to keep pace with population growth rates. However, there is a growing recognition that this approach has also been damaging the environment and top-soils and it is becoming clear that this approach is not sustainable over time. Furthermore, the agricultural practise is also no longer ensuring sufficient food supplies for the growing population while also ensuring that poverty levels are reduced amongst rural population.
Conservation agriculture offers an approach where higher production yields can be achieved, while limiting the environmental impacts and improving soil nutrients. Due to significantly lower production costs the profitability of the approach also increases the income for the farmers and thus contributes to reducing rural poverty.