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Conservation Agriculture: Islands of hope

by Sithembile Siziba
13 Sep 2016 at 16:07hrs | Views

A huge crisis unfolds as millions of people around southern Africa are facing extreme food and nutrition insecurity due to successive years of droughts, made worse by the El Niño this year (2016). This climatic shock has disrupted people's lives and ruined their livelihoods.

In typical years families normally have enough food to eat after the main harvests begin in late March and April; that however was not the case for most this year.

In Zimbabwe, a drive through southern areas of the country in April revealed a prevalence of failed crops that have been ravaged by the drought.

In the midst of an apparently hopeless situation, Mr. Sibindi - a conservation agriculture farmer from Matebeleland North Province is gearing for a bumper harvest of diversified crops that include maize, butternuts, and tomatoes.

The crisis has called for innovative ideas and new approaches to agriculture, as the conventional farming methods are no longer sustainable.

Conservation agriculture (CA) entails climate smart agriculture practices that can cushion smallholder farmers from climate change induced droughts. Based on three interlinked principles; minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil covers and crop rotation, conservation agriculture is a way of managing agro-ecosystems aiming to improve productivity, while preserving the environment. Tillage is reduced to an absolute minimum; agrochemicals and plant nutrients are applied in quantities that do not interfere with biological processes, leading to better soil quality and ultimately resulting in healthier crops.

While most of Sibindi's neighbours are expecting zero yields this year, he boasts that his tomato plant will be ready for harvesting in the next few weeks. The Sibindis are beneficiaries of a project implemented by FAO through assistance from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), promoting the adoption of CA practices in the smallholder sector in southern Africa.

The Sibindi's story on how CA outputs can transform lives is just one of the many success stories from farmers who have adopted the approach across the subregion. It is also evidence that the good practice indeed has the potential to increase food productivity in the region while promoting resilience for smallholder farmers in times of crises.

Source - UN