Conservation agriculture and smallholder farming in Africa: The heretics’ view
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International research and development organizations promote conservation agriculture (CA) as a solution to poor soil conditions and agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). CA is claimed to improve soil health, reduce erosion, increase yields and reduce labor requirements, but empirical evidence does not decisively support these points, nor is it clear which CA principle produces which benefit. Convincing scientific reports both support and dispute the benefits of CT. Credible studies have found that CA intensifies labor requirements in the absence of herbicides, decreases the amount of mulch produced (as crop residue is primarily fed to livestock), and transfers much of the labor responsibilities to women. Available evidence reveals only minimal adoption of CA in SSA countries, not the widespread integration that is claimed by many. The article calls for an assessment of which ecological and socio-economic conditions are best suited for adoption of CA practices in smallholder farming. The lack of access to and use of external inputs, competing uses for crop residues, and heightened labor demand for weeding pose barriers to the successful, widespread adoption of conservation agriculture.