Small-holder adoption of conservation agriculture in Lesotho and Mozambique
Eash, Neal S.
Lambert, Dayton M.
Marake, Makoala V.
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Conservation Agriculture (CA) has been practiced for three decades and is extensively adopted by large scale commercial farmers in the Americas and Australia and to a much lower extent by small-scale farmers around the world. In 2008 there were about 106 million hectares of permanent crops grown using CA systems in 2008. Conservation agriculture typically involves: (1) minimal soil disturbance; (2) covering soils with crop residues; and (3) rotating crops or intercropping with legumes (FAO, 2002; Thierfelder and Wall, 2010). Interventions such as mechanical tillage are reduced to an absolute minimum, and the use of agrochemicals and nutrients of mineral or organic origin are applied at optimal levels. The interactions between minimal soil disturbance, managing crop residues on fields, applying optimal nutrient levels, and controlling weed populations are often considered more consequential than the individual effects of these management activities. Instead of maximizing crop yield, the managerial objectives implied by CA is to optimize long-term soil fertility improvements through residue management and cover crop rotations, with higher maize yields and potentially lower input cost side-benefits. Agronomic research has documented that CA systems are more likely to generate higher maize yields than non-CA systems. However, even increases in expected biological yields may not be enough to encourage risk-averse small-holder farmers to adopt CA technologies. This research summarizes field trial information from Mozambique and Lesotho to understand the interplay between (1) optimal seeding and fertilizer input rates, and (2) and input and commodity prices to estimate the risk premium associated with conservation agriculture technology. Findings suggest that farm size (as measured by household wealth) plays a significant role in determining the amount producers would be willing to pay to eliminate risk associated with adoption of an alternative technology like conservation agriculture.