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Conservation Agriculture in Subsistence Farming: Case Studies from South Asia and Beyond

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Conservation agriculture systems have long-term impacts on livelihoods, agricultural production, gender equity, and regional economic development of tribal societies in South Asia. This book presents South Asia as a case study, due to the high soil erosion caused by monsoon rainfall and geophysical conditions in the region, which necessitate conservation agriculture approaches, and the high percentage of people in South Asia relying on subsistence and traditional farming. The book takes an interdisciplinary approach to analyse systems at scales ranging from household to regional and national levels.

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1: A Brief History of Conservation Agriculture

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1

A Brief History of Conservation

Agriculture

Travis Idol*

University of Hawai‘i at Maˉnoa, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

1.1  Introduction

“Conservation agriculture (CA) aims to achieve sustainable and profitable

­agriculture and subsequently aims at improved livelihoods of farmers through the application of the three CA principles: minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and crop rotations. CA holds tremendous potential for all sizes of farms and agro-ecological systems, but its adoption is perhaps most urgently required by smallholder farmers, especially those facing acute labour shortages. It is a way to combine profitable agricultural production with environmental concerns and sustainability and it has been proven to work in a variety of agroecological zones and farming systems. It is been perceived by practitioners as a valid tool for

Sustainable Land Management (SLM)” (FAO, 2014a).

This modern definition of conservation agriculture embodies almost a century of academic and public concern over the negative effects of agriculture on soils and other natural resources and a much longer recognition that the quality of these resources is essential for the sustainability of agricultural production and the well-being of the surrounding natural and human communities. The main culprit has been, and continues to be, the plowing of the soil. Tillage has been a part of the development of agriculture since its beginnings in North Africa, the

 

2: Global Perspectives on Conservation Agriculture for Small Households

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Global Perspectives on

Conservation Agriculture for Small Households

Adrian Ares,1* Christian Thierfelder,2 Manuel Reyes,3

Neal S. Eash4 and Jennifer Himmelstein1

Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA; 2International Center for Maize and

Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT), Harare, Zimbabwe; 3North Carolina

Agricultural and Technical State University, Greensboro, North Carolina,

USA; 4University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA

1

2.1  Introduction

Conservation agriculture (CA) entails minimizing soil disturbance, maintaining year-round soil cover, and utilizing crop rotations or mixtures (Kassam et al.,

2009; Dubreil, 2011). Worldwide, the area under CA (or at least under one CA component: zero or minimum tillage) has increased vastly in the last 30 years.

In 2011, no-till farming was practiced on almost 125 million hectares (Mha)

(Friedrich et al., 2012), mainly in USA, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, and Canada.

Often, CA is implemented in large commercial estates (Bolliger et al., 2006) such as the Bon Futuro farm in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, where genetically modified soybean is grown on 230,000 ha. Reductions in operating costs and decreased erosion were the main drivers for the spread of CA in the Americas

 

3: Potential of Conservation Agriculture Production Systems (CAPS) for Improving Sustainable Food and Nutrition Security in the Hill Region of Nepal

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Potential of Conservation

Agriculture Production

Systems (CAPS) for Improving

Sustainable Food and Nutrition

Security in the Hill Region of Nepal

Bikash Paudel,1* Theodore Radovich,1 Catherine Chan,1

Susan Crow,1 Jacqueline Halbrendt,1 Keshab Thapa2 and Bir Bahadur Tamang2

University of Hawai‛i at Ma¯noa, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA; 2Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development, Pokhara, Nepal

1

3.1  Introduction

3.1.1  Food and nutritional security in Nepal

One in eight people in the world suffers from hunger (FAO/IFAD/WFP, 2013).

Although the population considered malnourished has decreased from 1,015 to

842 million from 1990–1992 to 2011–2013, the rate of progress varies across different regions. During this period, the undernourished population has decreased from 319 to 295 million people in southern Asia, yet the region’s contribution to the global malnourished population has increased from 31% to 35% in the same duration. The increase in southern Asia’s proportion of the world’s undernourished population is due mainly to comparatively slower progress in improving food security in the region. Although Nepal is included in southern Asia, its progress in fighting hunger is slightly better than other countries in the region.

 

4: Effect of Tillage, Intercropping and Residue Cover on Crop Productivity, Profitability, and Soil Fertility under Tribal Farming Situations in Odisha, India

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4

Effect of Tillage, Intercropping and Residue Cover on Crop

Productivity, Profitability, and

Soil Fertility under Tribal Farming

Situations in Odisha, India

Aliza Pradhan,1* Travis Idol,1 Pravat Kumar Roul,2

Kshitendra Narayan Mishra,2 Catherine Chan,1

Jacqueline Halbrendt1 and Chittaranjan Ray1

University of Hawai‛i at Maˉnoa, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA; 2Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology, Bhubaneswar, India

1

4.1  Introduction

4.1.1  The need for resource-conserving agriculture

More than 50 years after the start of the Green Revolution, increasing population growth in many developing countries continues to make achieving food security a challenge. There appears to be no alternative but to increase agricultural productivity to meet future food demand and to alleviate poverty and hunger. However, agricultural intensification to increase crop production has had negative effects on natural resources such as surface- and groundwater pollution, sinking of groundwater levels, waterlogging and salinization of irrigated land, soil erosion, increasing pest resistance and resurgence, and loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. These negative effects are especially pronounced in marginal crop production areas, where intensification practices have sometimes failed to increase crop yields sustainably. This realization has shifted the agricultural movement towards sustainable crop intensification that optimizes productivity while conserving, and even enhancing, natural resources.

 

5: Assessment of Maize-based Conservation Agriculture Production Systems (CAPS) in Rainfed Uplands of Odisha, India

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Assessment of Maize-based

Conservation Agriculture

Production Systems (CAPS) in Rainfed Uplands of Odisha,

India

Pravat Kumar Roul,1* Aliza Pradhan,2 Kshitendra

Narayan Mishra,1 Plabita Ray,1 Travis Idol,2 Satya

Narayan Dash,1 Catherine Chan2 and Chittaranjan Ray2

1

2

Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology, Bhubaneswar, India;

University of Hawai‛i at Maˉnoa, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

5.1  Introduction

Rainfed agroecosystems, the purported gray patches untouched by the Green

Revolution or most technological advances, occupy a prominent position in

Indian agriculture. However, since productivity of the country’s irrigated areas has almost reached a plateau, future growth in farm productivity will likely come from rainfed agroecosystems. The rainfed zones of India, with annual rainfall ranging from 500 to 1,500 mm, constitute 60% of the country’s net cultivated area. Calculations based on rainfall distribution pattern and soil type showed that even if the full irrigation potential of the country was realized, 50% of the net sown area would remain rainfed.

 

6: Risk as a Determinant of Adoption of Conservation Agriculture by Smallholder Farmers in Malawi

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Risk as a Determinant of

Adoption of Conservation

Agriculture by Smallholder

Farmers in Malawi

Jessica Rust-Smith*

Hove, East Sussex, UK

6.1  Introduction

For many farmers throughout Africa, their traditional methods of farming are no longer sufficient. Agricultural growth in sub-Saharan Africa is slow and based mainly on expansion of the area farmed (World Bank, 2013). Maintaining the status quo and sticking with conventional farming methods will not ensure the food

­security of some farmer families, who are faced with the effects of climate change and marginal lands. Instead, sustainable farming methods are needed (FAO,

2014). An increasing number of development actors, including the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, and numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – ActionAid, Christian Aid, Concern

Universal, and the Malawi-based, Total LandCare (TLC) – are advocating for and implementing conservation agriculture (CA) programs. Conservation agriculture is a form of agricultural practice that is intended to increase yields and be more sustainable than conventional forms of production techniques because of its application of ecological concepts and principles. Through the use of these programs, development aides hope to improve smallholder productivity in developing countries, to mitigate the effects of climate change, and to reduce environmental degradation.

 

7: Economic Potential of Conservation Agriculture Production Systems (CAPS) for Tribal Farmers in the Hill Region of Nepal

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Economic Potential of

Conservation Agriculture

Production Systems (CAPS) for Tribal Farmers in the Hill

Region of Nepal

Bikash Paudel,* Catherine Chan, Aliza Pradhan and

Brinton Foy Reed

University of Hawaiʽi at Maˉnoa, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

7.1  Introduction

7.1.1  Background

Hill farming systems, characterized by crop cultivation on sloping agricultural lands, provide food for millions of people worldwide. However, in recent years, conventional farming practices in Nepal’s hilly areas, which provide food for about 43% of Nepal’s population, have been forced to weather challenges such as population growth, deforestation, and climate change (Craswell et al., 1997;

Templeton and Scherr, 1999). At the same time, the region is facing increasing food demands and declining crop productivity. Unfortunately, expansion of agricultural lands is not generally feasible in Nepal’s hill farming systems, where arable land is extremely scarce. Therefore, farmers have intensified production per unit area rather than expanding it (Hall et al., 2001). In fact, although

 

8: Evaluation of Tillage and Farmyard Manure on Soil Properties and Maize Yield in the Mid-hills of Nepal

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Evaluation of Tillage and

Farmyard Manure on Soil

Properties and Maize Yield in the Mid-hills of Nepal

Roshan Pudasaini1* and Keshav Raj Pande2

Local Initiatives for Biodiversity Research and Development,

Pokhara, Nepal; 2Agriculture and Forestry University, Chitwan, Nepal

1

8.1  Introduction

In Nepal, maize (Zea mays L.) is the major staple crop after rice, both in terms of area and production. Grain is used as a staple food by people, as well as used as animal feed. Maize stover is also used as bedding material for livestock and as fuel for cooking. Maize is currently grown on 875,660 ha of land, with a total production of 1,855,184 Megagrams (Mg) and an average yield of 2.119 Mg/ha

(MoAC, 2010), and therefore plays an important role in national food security.

About 70% of Nepal’s total maize production area is within the country’s east to west oriented mid-hills region, where the crop is grown in rainfed conditions during the summer months, i.e. April–August (MoAC, 2010).

Maize yield in Nepal is lower than world levels. There are several reasons associated with low productivity of maize, including low nutrient supply, poor irrigation facilities, poor yield varieties, poor weed management practices, and most seriously, rapidly degrading soil quality, particularly in Nepal’s mid-hill region

 

9: Soil Quality in Conservation Agriculture Production Systems (CAPS) of Rainfed, Sloping Land Farming in the Central Mid-hills Region of Nepal

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9

Soil Quality in Conservation

Agriculture Production Systems

(CAPS) of Rainfed, Sloping Land

Farming in the Central Mid-hills

Region of Nepal

Susan Crow,1* Olivia Schubert,1 Bir Bahadur Tamang,2

Theodore Radovich,1 Bikash Paudel,1

Jacqueline Halbrendt1 and Keshab Thapa2

University of Hawaiʻi at Ma¯noa, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA; 2Local Initiatives for

Biodiversity, Research, and Development (LI-BIRD), Pokhara, Nepal

1

9.1  Introduction

9.1.1  Nepal

Nepal is a populous country (30.4 million people) of small size (147,181 km2), with a growth rate of 1.35% per annum (NPHC, 2012; CIA, 2013). Agriculture is the main sector contributing to people’s livelihood and the national economy, and nearly three-quarters of the total population depends primarily on agriculture

(CSB, 1999). Nepal is landlocked on the southern slopes of the central Himalayas in South Asia. The topography, elevation, and climatic conditions of Nepal are all wide-ranging. The country is commonly divided into three ecological zones: mountains, hills, and lowland areas called terai (Khatri-Chhetri and Maharjan,

 

10: Preferences for Conservation Agriculture in Developing Countries: a Case Study on the Tribal Societies of India and Nepal

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Preferences for Conservation

Agriculture in Developing

Countries: a Case Study on the

Tribal Societies of India and

Nepal

Cynthia Lai,* Catherine Chan, Aliza Pradhan,

Bikash Paudel, Brinton Foy Reed and

Jacqueline Halbrendt

University of Hawaiʽi at Ma¯noa, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

10.1  Introduction

In many agricultural regions of the world, farmers are experiencing the effects of climate change and its subsequent effects on soil productivity, which lead to reduced agricultural productivity (FAO, 2012). For smallholder subsistence farmers who reside in developing countries, the effects of climate change coupled with population pressures are of even greater impact, due to existing marginalized land conditions (i.e. poor soil fertility, moisture retention, and erosion), as well as lack of capital, institutional support, and access to resources and information (Lai et al., 2012a). With increasing population and decreasing land fertility, agricultural research in the 1960s and 1970s focused on agricultural intensification and increasing per capita food production (Conway and Barbier, 1990). The new technologies, innovations, and increased agricultural productivity that emerged from this period are recognized as the “Green Revolution”. Although the resulting chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and breeding programs for high-yielding varieties provided increased yields, the successes were short-lived, as they failed to provide sustainable solutions to existing land degradation and soil fertility problems, particularly for the smallholder subsistence farmer (Conway and Barbier, 1990).

 

11: Empowering Women through Conservation Agriculture: Rhetoric or Reality? Evidence from Malawi

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Empowering Women through

Conservation Agriculture:

Rhetoric or Reality? Evidence from Malawi

Jane Maher,1* Paul Wagstaff 2 and John O’Brien2

Department of Geography, School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College

Dublin, Dublin, Ireland; 2Concern Worldwide, Dublin, Ireland

1

11.1  Introduction

Malawi is a landlocked country in southern Africa, 1,500 km from a seaport. It is one of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), with a GDP per capita of US$805 in 2011, and ranks 170th out of 185 on the Human Development

Index, an indicator that combines life expectancy, education, and income as a measure of development (UNDP, 2013). In Malawi, agriculture is the primary economic sector, representing approximately 37% of the country’s GDP and employing about 80% of the labor force in 2010 (African Development Bank, 2012).

Approximately 80% of Malawi’s population lives in rural areas (World Bank,

2012); 90% of these people are smallholder farmers that rely on rainfed subsistence farming techniques (IFAD, n.d.). Systematic plowing of agricultural land has intensified in recent years due to land scarcity, which has resulted in significant soil degradation and declining yields (Scherr and Yadav, 1996). As in much of

 

12: Gendered Implications of Introducing Conservation Agriculture (CA): A Case Study in the Hill Region of Nepal

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Gendered Implications of

Introducing Conservation

Agriculture (CA): A Case Study in the Hill Region of Nepal

Jacqueline Halbrendt,* Bikash Paudel and Catherine Chan

University of Hawai‛i at Ma¯noa, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

12.1  Introduction

As one of the poorest countries in the world, and experiencing rising populations,

Nepal is at a high risk of food crisis. The majority of Nepal’s population lives on marginal land in rural areas, where food security is low and continuing to decrease (FAO, 2012; World Bank, 2012). Much of Nepal’s poverty is concentrated in the hill region, where farming communities depend on sloping, degraded fields for sustenance and face seasonal food scarcity (FAO, 2007; Tiwari et al.,

2008; Shively et al., 2011). Conservation agriculture (CA) practices have long been proposed as a potential remedy for such issues; nevertheless, these practices have been introduced on a limited basis only and have seldom met with success.

A combination of social, economic, cultural, and environmental factors may have contributed to difficulties in promoting the adoption of long-term sustainable agricultural practices such as CA (Paudel and Thapa, 2004). Research has shown that traditional practices often persist, despite development efforts by government extension or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to introduce new practices (Yadav, 1987; Bunch, 1999; Cochran, 2003). Factors such as gender, education level, and economic status have each been identified as important indicators of a willingness to learn new farming practices (Kessler, 2006; Knowler and Bradshaw, 2007).

 

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