Conference aims to encourage conservation agriculture in Asia and Africa

December 10, 2014

A conference jointly organised by Murdoch University discussed all the benefits of conservation agriculture and technologies available to small-scale farmers to adopt the practice in Asia and Africa.

Chair of the Conference, Dr Richard Bell, Professor of Sustainable Land Management at Murdoch University said the Regional Conference on Conservation Agriculture for Smallholders in Asia and Africa, was over four days from December 7 to 11 at the Bangladesh Agricultural University in Mymensingh, Bangladesh.

“Conservation agriculture is a form of cropping that involves minimum soil disturbance when planting seed and placing fertiliser in the soil,” Dr Bell said.

Conservation agriculture covers 157 million hectares globally but it has mostly been a system adopted by large farmers with heavy machinery.  Only a small percentage of conservation agriculture is practiced in Asia and Africa.

Research completed since 2006 by Murdoch University with funding from the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR) together with partners in Bangladesh has shown there are a number of benefits from conservation agriculture.

Benefits include:

  • Reduction for fuel costs for sowing crops.
  • Reduction in labour costs for sowing crops.
  • Reduction in irrigation requirements for rice, maize, wheat and legume crops
  • Increases in crop yield.
  • Timely sowing of crops and after two to three years increased soil organic matter and nitrogen levels.

Research over the last decade in Bangladesh has demonstrated that conservation agriculture practices could have a major role in adapting cropping to variable and changing climate, to reversing the declines in groundwater levels, and overcoming scarcity of farm labour and rising costs of production through mechanisation.

“From our research it is now clear that there are workable packages of technology for small farmers to adopt conservation agriculture,” Dr Bell said.

“Together with Bangladesh Agricultural University and IDE-Bangladesh, Murdoch has developed a planter costing less than $800 that can be driven by a two wheel tractor.

“The planter can place seeds in the soil with minimal soil disturbance in uncultivated soil with the residue of the previous crop still standing in the field.”

Dr Bell said that interest in conservation agriculture is spreading across Asia and Africa and that there are opportunities for planting machinery developed in Asia to also be used in Africa.

“This conference is timely as researchers can understand what has been learnt to date on conservation agriculture for smallholder farmers, what bottlenecks exist to greater adoption and how to engage smallholder farmers, researchers, and the private sector in overcoming these bottlenecks,” Dr Bell said.

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