using CA than on those using conventional till-
CA practices have the potential to signiﬁ-
cantly shorten the length of time households are
food insecure prior to harvest, a period typically
known as the lean season. Reducing the lean
season means that household income, derived
from other sources and generally spent to supple-
ment own-production, is freed up to be invested
in education, health care, and other productive
activities, resulting in an overall improvement
to household well-being.
Given USAID/OFDA’s mandate to reduce the
risk of disasters, programs in Southern Africa have
largely targeted extremely poor, food-insecure house-
holds living in marginal, semi-arid, drought-prone
areas of the region—those populations who suffer
the most during droughts. For these poorest farming
households, the objective is to increase the percentage
of food-secure farmers from their own production by
reducing losses due to drought. As such, the emphasis
has been on manual, non-traction-based CA
involving farming plots of less than two hectares.
Targeting all segments of the farming popula-
tion can increase food production in all sectors.
Even non-commercial farming households that
use draught-animal power and cultivate larger land
holdings can beneﬁt from adoption of “mecha-
nized” CA by replacing plows with rippers and
seeders. As with manual CA, land can be prepared
before the onset of the rains, ensuring timely
planting. The time and effort required of draught
animals to “rip” a hectare, as compared to plowing
a hectare, is cut by half, and yield increases and
loss reduction result in surpluses available for local
and regional markets.
As the beneﬁts of soil and water conservation
3 S. Twomlow, J.C. Urolov, M. Jenrish, and B. Oldrieve, “Lessons from
the Field—Zimbabwe’s Conservation Agriculture Task Force,” Journal of
SAT Agricultural Research 6 (2008).
from CA become more apparent, large-scale com-
mercial agriculture in Canada, Brazil, Australia,
and the United States has increasingly adopted
these methods, replacing conventional plowing
with specially designed low-till seeders, rippers,
and related equipment. In Brazil alone, more than
25 million hectares of commercial production
were under CA during the 2005–2006 season—
up from 5 million hectares a decade prior.
It is crucial that the value of CA is not seen
to beneﬁt only poor smallholder farmers, but that
the environmental and economic advantages are
explored and applied to larger landholders and
commercial farming. The ability to increase yields
both at the household level and commercially
will become increasingly important in the face of
climate variability, yet hurdles to widespread adop-
tion remain. One challenge to the adoption of the
method in parts of Southern Africa has been its
strong association among less vulnerable farmers
as a method for the poor. Development initiatives
can continue to enhance the delivery of the mes-
sage that CA is both adaptable and successful and
should be more widely adopted by all.
Harlan Hale has worked in humanitarian assistance
and food security programs for more than 25 years,
including more than 13 years in Southern Africa.
Julie March is the team lead for the Agriculture and
Food Security Team, part of the Technical Assistance
Group of the Ofce of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.
The views expressed in this essay are their own, and do
not necessarily represent the views of the United States
Agency for International Development or the United
4 Rolf Derpsch and Theodor Friedrich, “Global Overview of Conserva-
tion Agriculture Adoption,” paper presented to the IV World Congress
on Conservation Agriculture, New Delhi, India (February 2009), 4.
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