Conservation agriculture in dry areas
Conservation agriculture (CA) is an alternative to conventional agriculture that seeks to reduce the ecological impact of farming. CA has three components: 1. Preservation of ground cover, 2. No soil disturbance or compacting, 3. Varying crop rotations. Studies have reported that CA reduces fuel, labor, and establishment costs, increases production efficiency, decreases soil erosion by wind and water, heightened water and nutrient use efficiencies, and increased biodiversity and soil organic matter. However, these benefits do not always occur with CA, so a more practical, flexible, and locally-tailored approach is necessary. CA is utilized on 8.5% of arable cropped land and its benefits – environmental, economic, and social benefits and increased crop production relative to conventional tillage (CT) are well known. Generalized models have shown that CA performs better than CT, although high variability in results has shown that local specificity of CA practices is imperative. The authors suggested that CA should be presented as a flexible, adaptable set of principles. Policies, stakeholder interactions, and market conditions can influence how effectively CA can be introduced on the national and regional levels. System trade-offs and major knowledge gaps are identified as conditions to be researched and addressed in order to gain a better understanding of where and how CA should be integrated into smallholding farming systems. The special issue synthesizes contemporary research findings to enhance the continuing discussion of CA in smallholder farming systems, analyzing agro-ecological, agronomic, and socio-ecnomic factors that determine the success or failure of CA. The special issue also seeks to identify priorities for future research in conservation agriculture in dry areas.