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Africa to speed up adoption of 'Conservation Agriculture With Trees'

ACT and ICRAF are now combining forces to accelerate the adoption of CAWT (© Wendy Stone/ICRAF)
ACT and ICRAF are now combining forces to accelerate the adoption of CAWT
© Wendy Stone/ICRAF

Task forces that bring together ministry of agriculture officials, research and development organisations as well as private sector institutions have been formed in four African countries to look into ways of expanding the adoption of what has come to be known as Conservation of Agriculture With Trees (CAWT). The term refers to a platform of agricultural technologies that seek to combine the best elements of agroforestry and conservation agriculture. The formation follows a year-long preliminary study that examined the extent to which agroforestry and conservation agriculture was being practised in Kenya, Zambia, Ghana and Tanzania.

Both practices have been shown to increase farm yield, but they have been applied in isolation of each other. Conservation agriculture has been spearheaded by the African Conservation Tillage Network (ACT), while agroforestry has been promoted by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). But the two organisations are now combining forces to accelerate the adoption of CAWT on the continent by working with governments to test the best technologies that combine both practices while addressing policy and institutional factors that may hinder adoption.

In May 2012 ICRAF and ACT revealed that a mere five per cent of farmers apply all three principles of conservation agriculture: minimum soil disturbance, effecting crop rotation and the use of permanent soil cover. While a high proportion of farmers plant trees in their farms, the study showed that the majority did not intercrop the trees with annual crops to optimum levels that could boost yields. "Even though the findings showed that there is substantial awareness of conservation agriculture that involves the use of trees in the four sampled countries, the practice is only limited to one or two of the principles of conservation agriculture," says Jonathan Muriuki, a scientist at ICRAF.

By employing only one or two aspects of the practice, smallscale farmers on the continent deny themselves maximum benefits from their land, added Saidi Mukomwa, ACT's chief executive. "The consequence of this is that farm yields are not increased, soil fertility is not enhanced and farmer resilience to the effects of climate change is not improved," Mukoma explains.

Written by: Geoffrey Kamadi

Date published: June 2012

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