|Local farmer Malkeet Singh with his 'Happy Seeder' in northern India. |
The Happy Seeder represents a breakthrough for farmers across India’s north-west rice-wheat cropping zone both in terms of conservation agriculture (CA ) benefits and other benefits directly to farmers.
Last month ACIAR teamed up with the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to identify what is working with sustainable intensification of agriculture in Africa. The conclusions are relevant to researchers and policy makers around the globe–disciplinary and commodity programs are needed, but they must be backed up by systems R&D; and an approach called conservation agriculture is working for intensification on large and small farmers in all continents.
By eliminating ploughing, soil degradation is reduced – and lots of labour, energy and costs are saved, regardless of whether the fields are dug by hand or ploughed by animals or tractors. In fact labour shortages are a problem for farmers practically everywhere, even in populous countries like Cambodia and India, so labour-saving practices are welcomed. But you might ask: how can the crop be planted? In fact, special planters have been developed to plant the seed and add fertilizer directly into unploughed soil. These can be pulled by animals or tractors. There is even a hand operated planter called a ‘jab planter’.
"Nearly everyone agrees with two fundamental things: the world needs more food, and it has to be produced using farming practices which do not deplete natural resources."
Dr John Dixon.
Dr John Dixon.
Another feature of CA is retaining some crop residues on the soil surface. This protects the soil from water or wind erosion, slows evaporation of moisture from the soil during the dry season, and reduces weeds. Because grain crops produce about the same amount of grain and straw, special planting equipment is needed to sow seed directly through tons of straw lying on the soil surface. This can be done by the Happy Seeder which was developed through an ACIAR partnership in India, and has now been exported to other countries including China. In the Iraqi ACIAR/AusAID project farmers adapted their own seeders, some of which were originally Australian.
|The iraqi-made seeder undergoes testing.|
The life of a poor Bangladeshi family has been transformed through the purchase of a planter to contract to farmers for conservation agriculture. The family, who once lived in poverty, now run a successful business, and are financially secure. It's a heartwarming tale of success.
Besides maintaining continuous soil cover and minimizing soil disturbance, CA farmers plan crop rotations to minimise the build-up of pests or diseases and to optimise plant nutrient use across different crops. This is especially the case where the crop residues are left in the field. Of course, most of these farming systems don’t have enough biomass to leave it all in the field – it is also needed for livestock fodder, compost, construction, fuel, etc. To aggravate the imbalances, the demands on crop residues have increased dramatically as villages grow and forests are converted to cultivation, as we could observe across South Laos – but also in Africa.
|Project partners demonstrating the use of two-wheeled |
tractorsat the FACASI project launch.
(image courtesy of CIMMYT)
While reading Partners, imagine the potential linkages to share CA experience from country to country and continent to continent. Think also about the how farmers, extension, NGOs, business and researchers work together to establish CA; and of how to balance all the uses for biomass while leaving enough in the field to protect soils.
Author: Dr John Dixon, ACIAR Research Program Manager for Cropping Systems and Economics, Principal Regional Coordinator for South Asia and Africa.
ACIAR publication: Partners in Research for Development - Conservation Agriculture special edition (the edition includes links to all related projects)