Conservation Agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services, by capturing carbon in the soil and above ground biomass. The system draws from decades of scientific and applied research by the global communities of organic farming, agroecology, holistic grazing, and agroforestry.
There is a growing interest from farmers in conservation agriculture (CA). Traditional agriculture practices, such as: soil tillage, monoculture, leaving the soil bare, and the overuse of chemicals;depletes soil productivity and is not sustainable in the long-run due to diminishing yields and the need for increased chemical inputs (which are also increasing in price). The movement towards more conservation practices has been predominantly driven by commercial farmers - a comprehensive and compelling case for the adoption of conservation/regenerative agricultural practices can be found here.
The primary drivers of implementing CA are:
- Reduced capital and operating costs: the CA principle of minimal soil disturbance mitigates the need for costly machinery and associated fuel and maintenance costs
- Better soil health builders greater soil resilience: the improvement of microbial activity and consistency of nutrients means soil retains more water and nutrients, thus reducing water or fertiliser usage, water runoff and soil erosion
- Improved and/or more predictable yields: the soil resilience allows for consistent yields and resilience towards drought conditions
- Policy and regulatory support: the introduction of the Carbon Tax Act and carbon credit trading in South Africa incentivises moves to climate-smart agriculture
However, the implementation of CA requires a significant investment as as farmers shift to fertilisers and production practices that are most costly than conventional farming practices. Moreover, farmers who shift from conventional, intensive farming often experience a dip in yield (with a recovery of 6 + plus in most instances).
You can learn more about the the financial case for regenerative agriculture, organisations that support its uptake and the experience of real farmers in South Africa, head over to our soil health page under the Agri Directory