Conservation agriculture can help the South American Andean region achieve food security


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The Andean region of Ecuador is dominated by small-scale agriculture on steep slopes vulnerable to erosion, soil degradation, and subsequent productivity loss. Soil erosion rates exceed the average rate of soil formation by 9-286 times, making current agricultural practices in the region unsustainable, and threatening to increase food insecurity. The projected effects of a changing climate vary across the Andean region, with higher precipitation and erosion rates projected for some areas. However, even in areas where the precipitation rates are expected to be lower, the projected erosion rates will still be unsustainable. Research on conservation agriculture (CA) practices conducted from 2008 to 2017 in the highlands of Ecuador suggests that yields and cost savings ultimately make several CA production systems profitable compared to conventional practices. In the very short term, large gains did not emerge, and the best that could be said about CA is that it did not reduce productivity. Over the medium term, improvements in soil health (lower erosion) led to higher profitability that made the practices more profitable than conventional practices over the entire rotation. However, adoption of these alternatives by local producers, even in research areas, is low. Lack of public or private agricultural extension contributes to slow diffusion of new technology and best management practices in the region. There is a need to develop improved communication with local farmers to more effectively relay how CA protects the soil, mitigates degradation, and provides a means to achieve food security and avoid a humanitarian crisis.