Challenges and opportunities for smallholder adoption of conservation agriculture

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Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Tech, Office of International Research, Education, and Development (OIRED)

Conservation agriculture (CA) has been trumpeted as the solution for reducing soil degradation and increasing agricultural productivity throughout the world. Some farmland settings, such as in Brazil and the United States, have achieved high levels of CA adoption while other locations, such as in Africa, have little permanent adoption. A close review of the literature on adoption of CA technologies indicates that smallholder farmers are unlikely to adopt the practices that commercial farmers have so readily embraced. Locally constructed networks may support the development and diffusion of CA knowledge among smallholders. Networks can also provide access to resources for smallholder farmers since successful implementation of CA technologies requires farmers to increase the intensity of their farming. A series of hypotheses about conditions for the adoption of CA among smallholder farmers are examined. These hypotheses are grouped into four broad categories concerning inputs, delivery mechanisms, farm and farmer circumstances, and likely benefit streams as they apply to smallholders. This exercise is based on extensive case studies, characterizing CA innovation and diffusion among smallholders. The presentation introduces a model highlighting the main components of the generic CA system in order to identify the main obstacles impeding the successful adoption of conservation agriculture and the best bet hypotheses to be pursued in future attempts.

Conservation agriculture, Farmer field schools, Community management, Social capital, Soil conservation, Farmer to farmer, Community participation, Adoption of innovations, Adaptive management, Innovation, Knowledge networks, Technological frames, Hypotheses, Delivery mechanisms, Farm/Enterprise Scale
Presented at the International Meeting of the Soil and Water Conservation Society, Dearborn, MI, 13 July 2009