From: Biniam Tekle <biniamt_at_dehai.org_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sat, 11 Apr 2015 18:18:55 -0400





Some African farmers are turning the tables on starvation by no longer
turning the soil.

By: Laura Rance

Posted: 04/11/2015 1:00 AM | Comments: 2

Improving the productivity of smallholder farmers in Africa is both
the biggest challenge and greatest opportunity for addressing hunger
and poverty on the continent.

More than 80 per cent of the population depends on farming.
Agriculture also makes up a significant proportion of their GDP: as
much as 45 per cent in Ethiopia and 37 per cent in Malawi. (By
comparison, two per cent of Canadians live on a farm and the sector
accounts for eight per cent of this country’s GDP.)

So growth in the agricultural sector in these countries is critical —
not only for feeding their rising populations, but to grow their

Manitoba Co-operator editor Laura Rance recently spent five weeks in
three African countries on a special assignment supported by the
Canadian Foodgrains Bank, exploring the links between investing in
agriculture and development.

She found while modern technologies such as hybrid seeds and
fertilizers can make a difference, the foundation for real
agricultural growth starts with healthy soils.

Katete District, Zambia

Many farmers in Africa are unable to produce enough maize to feed
tehir families through the months between harvests.

We could hear the grief, wails rising and receding like waves, as soon
as we stepped out of the Toyota Landcruiser in this farming district
located about an hour outside of Chipata, Zambia, on a bone-jarringly
rough road.

5 weeks, 3 countries

Laura Rance recently spent five weeks in three African countries while
on secondment to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank to write about
agriculture and development.

The chorus of voices gathering to support a neighbour who had just
lost a loved one echoed through the trees, spreading the sombre news
to all in the vicinity.

This was the third funeral we had encountered in as many days as
researcher Chris Woodring and I criss-crossed the Zambia-Malawi border
in late February interviewing farmers about conservation agriculture

Ruairidh Waddell, (pronounced Rory), program consultant for Zambia and
Malawi with the development and relief agency World Renew, accompanied
us for part of the tour.

He confirmed the deaths were no coincidence.

The months between December through March are known as the "hunger
months" or "lean months" in southern and eastern Africa — the gap
between when last year’s harvest is running short and this year’s crop
is not yet ready.

The degree of shortages varies from household to household. But for
many families, it becomes a season of tough choices. Do they skip
meals or make do with smaller portions? Will assets be sold to
purchase staples such as maize? Or should that money be used to pay
school fees, even if it means the children attend on an empty stomach?

It is also a season that takes a heavy toll on the old, the young and the sick.

"I would definitely say there is a correlation between the two," said Waddell.

"The hunger months, also the very cold season, present the most
challenging periods for families in this area, especially in relation
to diseases like HIV/AIDS that suppress people’s immunity," he said.
"They require better nutrition in these periods. You’ll find this time
of the year the balanced diet sort of goes out the window."

The rainy season is also when malaria and pneumonia, which are
increasingly resistant to available antibiotics, are more apt to

"Children also tend to suffer at this time of year," Waddell said.
"Culturally and traditionally, children are often the last to eat, and
so you may find that the adults are taking more food. They are working
in the fields so they require a higher daily calorie count. Amongst
children, you often see a lot more fatalities at this time of the

Enlarge Image

Conservation agriculture practices have enabled Malawi farmers Betty
and Vincent Zimba to increase their yields so the family no longer
suffers the region's 'hunger months.' (LAURA RANCE / WINNIPEG FREE

To make matters worse, the rains have become less predictable in
recent years. This growing season, the "planting rains," which should
have fallen in November, came late in December instead, pushing
everything back.

"This year with the delayed rains, it means crops that would
traditionally be available, like pumpkins at this time of year to add
a little bit of extra nutrition to their diet, are late," Waddell
said. "They are three to four weeks behind, so people are in an even
more acute position this year than they normally are."

This is when I began to understand the distinction between being
hungry — as in, those pangs you feel between meals — and living with a
hunger that defines your day-to-day existence and compromises your
family’s future.

It’s a sad irony that most of the hungry people on the African
continent are farmers, many of whom live from crop to crop and in
perpetual poverty. More than 80 per cent of the populations of these
countries live in rural areas and farm for a living.

Their survival is based on what they can produce on small parcels of
land, often one hectare or less. And in many countries, where land can
be occupied but can’t be bought and sold, those parcels are divided
into even smaller pieces with each generation. In the face of a
population that is growing by 2.5 to 2.8 per cent per year, it is
giving rise to a demographic of young peasants who can’t possibly
produce enough to live.

But in an underdeveloped economy, there is nowhere else for them to go.

It is also placing unsustainable pressure on soils that are already
degraded and rapidly losing their productive capacity.

Hawassa, Ethiopia

Heavy tillage and the removal of crop residues leaves soils in many
parts of sub-Saharan Africa exposed to wind and water erosion.

You don’t have to be a soil scientist to see Africa’s soils are in trouble.

You only have to drive across the Great Rift Valley south of Addis
Ababa in Ethiopia, a region where farmers plough their fields with
oxen no less than five times before seeding and where the mountains on
either side are obscured by soil particles hanging suspended in the
air. The dust devils run rampant, vacuuming up the earth like dirt on
a floor.

The Montpellier panel, an elite group of European and African
scientists commissioned to analyze development issues on the
continent, published a report last December that characterizes
two-thirds of Africa’s soils as degraded, along with 30 per cent of
the grazing lands and 20 per cent of the forests. That degradation
affects the food security of 180 million people and cuts productivity
to the tune of US$68 billion annually.

Enlarge Image

"We mine the nutrients from the soil," says Hawassa University soil
scientest Sheleme Beyene. (LAURA RANCE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

"The burdens caused by Africa’s damaged soils are disproportionately
carried by the continent’s resource-poor farmers," said the panel’s
chairman, Sir Gordon Conway, in releasing the report No Ordinary
Matter: Conserving, restoring and enhancing Africa’s soil.

"The decline in fertility exists everywhere," Sheleme Beyene, a soil
scientist with Ethiopia’s Hawassa University, said in an interview.

"In areas where there is a dense population, the land holding is so
small that everything from that land is utilized — removed." Grazing
animals are turned out after harvest to clean up anything that is
left. From the road, they appear to be grazing on dust.

"We mine the nutrients from the soil. The assumption was that some
amount would be returned to the soil through chemical fertilizer. But
chemical fertilizer will not return all the nutrients," Beyene said.

Soil-mapping has only recently begun in earnest across Africa, but
what little has been done shows a growing gap between the nutrients
removed by farmers’ crops and their replenishment. Micronutrient
deficiencies such as zinc and iron show up, correlating with nutrient
deficiencies in the humans who consume what the land produces.

Across the continent, governments have initiated campaigns to
encourage farmers to switch to improved hybrid seeds and use more

The continental goal is to increase fertilizer use from an average of
eight kilograms per hectare, which is the lowest in the world, to at
least 50 kg/ha.

But those fine particles that create the throat-tickling, smoke-like
haze in the Great Rift Valley are also an indication of badly degraded
biological health in the soil, a declining capacity to bind and create
humus, to absorb water and nutrients, and to build organic matter.

Enlarge Image

A dusty hazy, caused by eroded soils, hangs over the Great Rift Valley
in southern Ethiopia. (LAURA RANCE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

That compromised biological health sets the stage for an environmental
travesty that is repeated across the continent, evidenced by the
washed-out roads, deep crevices dividing farmers’ fields, plants left
dying with roots exposed after heavy rainstorms and rivers laden with
rich, red silt.

The Montpellier report identifies water erosion as the single biggest
cause of soil loss on the continent, an irony every bit as sad as
Africa’s hungry farmers.

Rain, moisture so desperately needed to sustain life in this land, is
simultaneously at war with its exposed and degraded soils. It
pulverizes them before taking them hostage and carrying them away to
the sea.

All the fertilizer in the world won’t fix that.

The Montpellier panel was critical of Africa’s continental
agricultural strategy, the Comprehensive African Agriculture
Development Program, and of international donors for not placing a
high enough priority on soil health in their strategies to improve the
continent’s food security.

"All donors must consider whether their efforts to reduce food
insecurity and generate economic growth, particularly in rural areas,
risk falling well beneath their potential if greater political
attention and development resources are not channelled into land and
resource management," the panel says.

"There is an urgent need for donors to work with the Organization for
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to develop a clear and
transparent process for monitoring aid to soil and land management,"
it says.

The panel calls for an integrated soil-management strategy that
combines organic-farming methods, conservation agriculture, ecological
approaches and selective and targeted use of inputs such as

It’s an approach a dizzying number of non-government and government
development agencies, as well as internationally respected research
and development organizations, believe offers the best chance for
Africa to save its soils and feed, clothe and educate its growing

But in the absence of a cohesive, broad-based and well-funded
strategy, these efforts are akin to taking on a forest fire with
garden hoses.

Nkhotakota, Malawi

Christian Thierfelder, a senior agronomist with the International
Wheat and Maize Improvement Centre, demonstrates how soil under
conservation agriculture becomes more resilient and productive.

Thomas Nkhunda describes his cropping practices to a small group of
international visitors gathered in his fields located about two hours
inland from Lake Malawi.

But my attention is focused on raindrops.

The fact it is raining isn’t surprising. It is, after all, the rainy season.

What is interesting, however, is what happens to those raindrops as
they hit the ground.

Enlarge Image

Malawi farmer Thomas Nkhunda has seen dramatic improvements in his
farm's performance since adopting conservation agriculture. (LAURA

Even though it is a gentle rain, nothing like the torrents that have
wiped out crops and displaced people further south, where those drops
fall — on the path, on the road and in the neighbouring field — they
almost immediately start to puddle, forming rivulets that gradually
turn red with the soil as it follows the path of least resistance.

But where I’m standing in Nkhunda’s field, the raindrops hit the
ground and disappear without a trace. His field soaks up that water
with a spongy thirst.

Nkhunda, a 37-year-old married father of three, is participating in a
project promoting conservation agriculture offered by the NGO Total
Land Care, with technical support from the International Maize and
Wheat Improvement Centre, an internationally supported non-profit
research agency focused on improving cereal varieties and sustainable
farming practices.

The project has changed how he farms. It has also changed his life.

It has transformed his subsistence farm into a small-scale commercial
operation and made his routinely hungry family become food-secure.

That change became possible largely because of how his land deals with rain.

Farmers in this part of Malawi typically farm with a hoe. They plant
crops into rows and then pull those rows into ridges, like we would
hill potatoes, sometimes a foot high, leaving deep gullies between
rows. It’s back-breaking work.

Under conservation agriculture, farmers do away with those ridges.
They instead make planting basins into which they put a small amount
of manure and later poke their seed in with a stick. Without the
ridges, they can plant their rows closer together, which increases the
ground cover, paving the way for higher yields.

Enlarge Image

Mulch is used between the rows of crop to anchor the soil, retain
moisture and build organic matter. (LAURA RANCE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

They use mulch made from past crop residues or composted plant
material between the rows to help suppress weeds, hold in moisture and
build organic matter. In this environment, higher-yielding hybrid
seeds have a better chance of meeting their yield potential.

The extra moisture and organic matter have resulted in a doubling of
his maize yields. Nkhunda’s family no longer suffers food deficits
during the lean months. There is less hoeing involved, which has freed
both Nkhunda and his wife to tend to other jobs.

He now grows a wider range of crops, which is also good for his land.
He can reap the benefits of higher-yielding seeds. He has started a
fruit-tree nursery and a small grain-buying business.

Nkhunda summed the family’s progress up with three words he hesitantly
spoke in English: "fixed deposit account."

"He is saving money," the interpreter says. "Before, they were not saving."

Even a little bit of increased productivity can bring about remarkable
changes for smallholder farmers.

In the Katete district of eastern Zambia, we met Juliette, the eldest
daughter of Olipa Tembo and Dickson Nkata, who described through an
interpreter her humiliation at being sent home from school because of
unpaid school fees four years ago as though it were yesterday.

"She wanted to learn, but the teacher would send her back home," her
father said. "She was being teased, and she was crying."

It became a familiar story as we travelled from district to district.

Rural families see education as the best hope their kids have of
achieving a better life than the farm can offer. But when there is no
food or money, and there is field work to be done, compromises must be
made. In resource-poor countries such as Zambia, there is no free

Juliette, however, was determined not to fall behind in her studies.
The interpreter chuckled as she relayed her description of what
happened next. "She forced her parents to pay her fees."

Enlarge Image

Olipa Tembo and Dickson Nkata were able to afford school fees for
their eldest daughter, Juliette (pictured) after their smallholder
farm was transformed by conservation agriculture programming. (LAURA

That became more possible after her mother was selected by the Zambian
government to receive training in crop rotation, crop diversification,
gardening and poultry production.

For the past three years, the family has also participated in a
program promoting conservation agriculture offered by the Reformed
Church of Zambia, with support from World Renew and the Canadian
Foodgrains Bank.

These investments in her capacity as a farmer are paying big dividends
for her family and their community. For starters, they no longer run
short of food, and the school fees get paid on time. Visiting the
family’s farm today is like being on a mini-research station. Tembo
runs field schools to share her knowledge with other farmers.

Nkhunda and Tembo are textbook examples of smallholder transformation
that organizations who promote conservation agriculture in Africa hope
will become the norm.

Since learning of soil-healthy farming, the farmers have embraced the
concepts and are reaping the benefits.

They are also helping to spread the word.

In some parts of the continent, the conservation agriculture message
is even treated like gospel, referred to as "Farming God’s Way"
because of its emphasis on a reconnection between humans and their

At its core, the approach emphasizes minimal soil disturbance to
prevent erosion and conserve moisture while employing strategies that
support healthy soil biology.

Some farmers use oxen and what is known as a "ripper," a device that
slices a narrow opening for the seed, instead of a plough. While many
use a combination of chemical and organic fertilizers, just as many
produce some of their own fertilizer by growing nitrogen-fixing
legumes, sometimes intercropped with staple cereal crops.

Enlarge Image

Christian Thierfelder demonstrates how soil under conservation
agriculture becomes more productive. (LAURA RANCE / WINNIPEG FREE

Christian Thierfelder, the senior agronomist with the maize and wheat
improvement centre’s field station in Harare, Zimbabwe, toured
participating farms in Malawi the same day we visited.

He grabbed a handful of dirt from the conservation agriculture field
and then another from a nearby field grown under traditional methods.
The comparison left little doubt as to how the soil changes under
conservation agriculture management.

"When you look at the soil, the soil (under CA) is very loose, and
when you get a heavy rainfall, the water can infiltrate because there
is a lot of biological activity — earthworms, beetles and ants and so
on that create these bio pools, like a sponge," he said. "The rainfall
hits the soil surface and infiltrates, whereas on the conventional
system, it just runs off or stands there."

The traditionally farmed soil was hard and gravelly. "The conventional
system can only make use of the water that is in the ridge and not
further down in the soil," he said.

Plant roots grown using conservation agriculture techniques are able
to penetrate deeper into the soil and reach for added moisture. "And
also, because of the residues on top, there is less evaporation of
water — it just has more water available for plant growth."

That’s "climate-smart" in a region where sporadic rainfalls can wreak
havoc with food production.

But it is the link between better-performing soil and food security
for farmers that offers the most tangible benefit. More stable
production of maize, the staple crop, means farmers can sow less of
their farm to it, opening the door to better crop rotations and the
inclusion of cash crops, he said.

But for every farmer like Nkhunda, who has converted most of his
three-hectare farm to the conservation agriculture approach, there are
dozens who are either struggling to make the system work, or who are
shunning it altogether.

Choma, Zambia

Despite efforts to change farming practices, the majority of farmers
still cling to traditional methods that involve deep tillage, using
ploughs pulled by oxen, leading some to suggest conservation farming
isn't a good fit with African smallholder agriculture.

Despite the promotional efforts of hundreds of projects offered by
donors, governments, faith-based development organizations or research
organizations such as the maize and wheat improvement centre over the
past decade, uptake of conservation agriculture by smallholder farmers
in Africa has been slow — less than five per cent in most countries.

That’s given rise to a debate over whether this approach, which relies
on a complex understanding of how soil, water and plants interact, is
the answer to productivity issues facing resource-poor farmers who
have little education and a pressing need for immediate boosts in

Enlarge Image

Uptake of conservation agriculture by smallholder farmers in Africa
has been slow — less than five per cent in most countries. (LAURA

In a 2009 study titled Conservation agriculture and smallholder
farming in Africa: The heretic’s view, four U.S.-based researchers
challenged the notion conservation agriculture is a solution for all
sub-Saharan African farmers.

In their view, the empirical evidence supporting these campaigns is
lacking and contradictory. As well, they argue the claims for the
potential of the technology in Africa are based on the experience in
the Americas, "where the effects of tillage were replaced by heavy
dependence on herbicides and fertilizers."

Yet, "it is actively promoted by international research and
development organizations, with such strong advocacy that critical
debate is stifled," wrote study authors Ken Giller, Ernst Witter,
March Corbeels and Pablo Tittonell.

"Concerns include decreased yields often observed with CA, increased
labour requirements when herbicides are not used, an important gender
shift of the labour burden to women and a lack of mulch due to poor
productivity and due to the priority given to feeding of livestock
with crop residues."

Research published in the journal Nature in 2014 concluded that simply
eliminating tillage from these systems might actually reduce yields
and increase food insecurity.

"The common assumption that no-till is going to play a large role in
the sustainable intensification of agriculture doesn’t necessarily
hold true, according to our research findings," said Cameron
Pittelkow, who co-authored the Nature study as a post-doctoral scholar
at University of California-Davis.

These researchers concluded the only way conservation agriculture
works is when it is part of a system that also includes crop rotation
and mulches that retain water, suppress weeds and improve soil

Those aren’t always available to resource-poor farmers.

The authors also pointed out some of the promised benefits, such as
increased fertility and weed suppression, take years before they
become noticeable.

In January, the Journal of Sustainable Development published an
article documenting high abandonment rates of conservation agriculture
once NGO support is withdrawn. Some have suspected smallholder farmers
who participated in the projects were only there for the free
fertilizer, seed and food served on the extension days.

But that article also noted persistent adoption was more prevalent
among the poor, which "supports claims that CA is a pro-poor

Sitolo Village, Mpherembe, Malawi

Young children hunt for crickets that burrow into the moist, mulched
soil in a conservation agriculture field. Roasted crickets are
considered a delicacy in Malawi.

At first, it looked as though youngsters were simply playing a
grown-up’s game as they raced from spot to spot using a hoe bigger
than they were to dig holes through the mulch in the maize patch.

Then one boy plunged his hand deep into the freshly hoed earth and
emerged triumphantly holding a 10-centimetre-long insect that was
buzzing like a windup toy.

It was a male cricket that when boiled and roasted, is a sought-after
food for people living through the lean months. Apparently, crickets
like conservation agriculture too, because they are frequently found
in the moist soils beneath the mulch.

Enlarge Image

When boiled and roasted, crickets are a sought-after food for people
living through the lean months. (LAURA RANCE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

Food security comes in many packages. But can the success of a farming
system be measured in crickets?

In a bid to give the people with the most at stake a voice in the
debate over conservation agriculture, the Canadian Foodgrains Bank,
with support from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, recently hired a
researcher to go talk to them.

Chris Woodring, a researcher and small-scale farmer from Kentucky, was
assigned to interview 50 farmers across five African countries about
their experiences with conservation agriculture, documenting where it
is working, where it is not and identifying the challenges
smallholders face in adopting the soil-saving methods.

Conservation agriculture proponents, including the
son-of-a-billionaire philanthropist financing this research, believe
it offers the best opportunity to stave off a looming environmental
and human catastrophe in Africa.

But the diversity of these farmers, their remote locations and
cultural and language barriers make theirs a difficult story to tell.

People don’t necessarily measure the success of their farming in yield
per hectare or map out their plots with laboratory precision. Rather,
it is based on whether their farm produced enough to feed the family
from one crop to the next, whether their diets have become more
diverse and whether there is enough money to send the kids to school
or buy sugar, soap or a cellphone.

Understanding the cultural context and why there is a difference
between what they say and what they do can also be difficult.

For example, after three years of growing maize under conservation
agriculture, Malawi farmer Nkasauka Nthala told us she is a believer.

Yet she has converted only a small portion of the farm she shares with
her husband and six children.

It took a bit of coaxing as we sat beneath the shade of the
tobacco-drying shed in this community on the Malawi-Zambia border.
Eventually, Nthala and her neighbour, Zione Mbewi, explain why.

Enlarge Image

Chris Woodring was hired by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and the
Howard G. Buffett Foundation to find out what smallholder farmers in
Africa think about conservation agriculture. (LAURA RANCE / WINNIPEG

It is hard to find enough of the mulch they use to cover the ground
between the rows of maize, especially in the early years.

During the dry season, farmers with livestock often allow their cattle
to roam freely looking for forage. Landowners have no fences to keep
them from eating the mulch.

As well, the decaying crop residues attract mice, which brings the
"mice-catchers," children who set the field on fire so they can catch
the rodents as they flee. Once caught and their entrails removed, the
critters are boiled and roasted until they are crispy and consumed as
a delicacy.

Then there is what one farmer described as the "man problem," a
gender-based competition within families over resource allocation.

"It is customary here that the husbands are in control of the land, so
they are the ones who share a portion for them to practise CA," our
interpreter explained. "Most of them are not interested, because they
are not seeing instant benefits, so they just give small portions to
their wives, because it is mostly the wives who have adopted the

Mbewi said she had hoped to expand her conservation agriculture plot
to include soybeans and groundnuts in addition to maize, but her
husband wouldn’t give her the land. Now that he has seen how her small
maize plot has performed after it was enriched with mulch and manure,
he wants to take it over and plant tobacco, the country’s biggest
export crop.

"In Malawi, food production is done by women, and so you find that
food becomes a gender issue. Men would prefer to grow a cash crop
where women would like to look after their families. So hunger becomes
the main issue for the women,’ said Sain Mskambo, a project officer
with the NGO Find Your Feet, based in Mzuzu, Malawi.

The tobacco industry began contracting with smallholder farmers here
in the early 2000s after large commercial tobacco-producing companies
went bankrupt.

Farmers are provided with inputs and advance cash payments to tide
them over until their crop can be sold. Local extension workers say
farmers sometimes don’t get enough from their crop to pay those loans
back. But they also say that when prices are good, businesses and the
booze halls in the region do a booming trade when the tobacco is sold
in May.

Cellphones, televisions and new clothes don’t do much for food
security, and many of these families still struggle to find enough
food to eat during the lean months.

But they do bring with them a certain status. Hunger here is often
hidden behind a flashy dress shirt.

Effecting change

Wilfred Hamakumba and his wife, Irene, have increased the size of
their farm and started using herbicides thanks to improved
productivity under conservation agriculture. It has also allowed them
to begin building a new home.

It’s a conundrum for NGOs, often faith-based, that have been
championing conservation agriculture as a means of improving food
security. Helping farmers sustainably produce tobacco isn’t what most
donors have in mind when they send cheques to help alleviate poverty
and hunger.

"I think that in truth, that if you can improve the income of a
household, then you will improve their food security," Woodring said.
"But in many cases, the organizations don’t see it that way — they
design projects which are maize-focused."

Woodring’s work, now completed, reveals interesting patterns.

Enlarge Image

Young John Phiri plays with his father's cellphone while his parents
Josephat and Ida talk about how conservation agriculture is working on
their farm near Lundazi, Zambia. (LAURA RANCE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

Weeds are by far the biggest challenge for these farmers. Many have
started using pesticides, but with mixed results.

"When they use mulching to control weeds or hand-hoeing to control
weeds, then that really limits their adoption of conservation
agriculture to the amount of labour they have to put the system into
practice," Woodring said.

Consistent with the North American experience, pesticides offer a less
labour-intensive alternative to hand-weeding, which makes them
exceedingly popular with women, who do most of the weeding.

But many smallholders can’t afford to buy pesticides, and if they do,
they often don’t know how to use them safely. We watched as a young
woman wearing no protection measured out the insect killer
cypermethrin from a bottle of concentrate into a backpack sprayer to
mix. When she donned the backpack sprayer and began spraying a field
of cowpeas, most of her skin was exposed.

As well, how well these products work depends on rainfall. Farmers can
lose their investments — and their crop. That spells hunger.

"If you spray and it doesn’t rain for five days, it won’t work," said
Wilfred Hamakumba, who has been practising conservation agriculture on
his farm near Choma, Zambia, for 13 years.

He consistently gets yields that are much higher than his neighbours,
and he has been increasing the size of his farm. "We will be
food-secure and we will sell," he said.

But many remain averse to change. "It pains me to see my neighbours
failing when I am getting plenty," he said.

Woodring heard repeatedly from conservation agriculture farmers that
their yields increased, which has improved the quality and quantity of
the family diet, as well as their income. That has positive
implications for child nutrition, the family’s overall health and
access to education. It is an investment that pays off in spades.

"I think the potential for CA is somewhat greater than actual
adoption," Woodring said as he wrapped up his five-country tour. "It
is rising significantly, maybe not exponentially, but I think it is
definitely on the rise in every country that I have visited."

Woodring, who has been monitoring the progression of reduced-tillage
agriculture across Africa for the past seven years, said the issue
isn’t whether conservation agriculture is the right approach, it is
how best to make it happen.

"The more we work the soil conventionally, the worse our soils will
become, the less productive they become, and at the same time you can
see that population explosion continuing to move forward," he said.
"With conservation agriculture, your soil improves, it improves
dramatically in many cases."

Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached
at laura_at_fbcpublishing.com.
Received on Sat Apr 11 2015 - 18:19:35 EDT

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