CARWG meeting emphasizes potential for conservation agriculture

Stakeholders at the recently concluded Conservation Agriculture Regional Working Group (CARWG) meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, emphasized that conservation agriculture (CA) has a lot of potential to help smallholder farmers build resilience and increase farm productivity, production, and nutrition.

“Conservation Agriculture can help address the high cost of fertilizers because it enables the efficient use of agro-inputs including fertilizers, but also restores soil fertility. The government of Zambia will continue to promote CA to increase the number of farmers and land under the approach,” Reuben Mtolo Phiri, Minister of Agriculture of Zambia said at the opening of the event.

According to reports by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the current geopolitical trade tensions and instability as a result of the Ukraine-Russia conflict are forecasted to exacerbate the limited availability and access of agricultural inputs by smallholder farmers. This is likely to further increase the number of people suffering from food and nutrition insecurity and loss of livelihood in the subregion.

FAO is supporting countries in Southern Africa through the project “Strengthening Coordination, Scaling up and Governance of Conservation Agriculture in Southern Africa (SUCASA)” to scale up CA through a strengthened capacity of the CA platforms, and networks and partnerships at subregional and national levels.

“It becomes critical that all of us work together to scale up proven alternative, innovative and transformative production approaches that offer our smallholder farmers the tenacity and resilience to maintain viable production and productivity despite the foreseen challenging socio-economic environment,” Suze Percy Filippini, FAO Representative in Zambia said.

This year’s CARWG meeting brought together CA stakeholders and National Conservation Agriculture Taskforces from Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The meeting was designed to share regional experiences, knowledge and information, best practices and strengthen partnerships, collaboration and opportunities for innovation, and explore CA investment options to scale up CA.

It comes at a critical time when food systems globally are facing a strain and southern Africa is no exception. Currently, an estimated 47.6 million people in the subregion are food insecure.

African heads of state, through the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), pledged to have 25 million farmers in Africa to have adopted climate-resilient production systems by 2025 to protect their food and nutrition security and livelihoods.

“Time has now come for CA stakeholders to increase their networking and coordination so that CA is mainstreamed into national agricultural development programmes,” Saidi Mkomwa, Executive Director of the African Conservation Tillage Network and Chair of the CARWG said.

Morgan Manchishi is a medium-scale farmer from Chongwe District, Zambia. He grows maize and soybeans on 35 hectares of land. Since adopting CA practices in 2009 he has realized better yields from his crops.

“This past season we did not have good rains but because of the CA practices, we were still able to harvest. The yield has not been affected,” Morgan told the CARWG delegates.

Average agricultural productivity from smallholder farmers in Southern Africa has either stagnated or even decreased to below 2 metric tonnes per hectare. A call for a transition from conventional farming to innovative, resilient and sustainable farming methods is critical to reverse this trend.

Stories like that of Morgan are being used to share knowledge and information on the impact of CA a climate-smart agriculture approach. This is meant to bring agriculture sector stakeholders and governments to prioritize scaling up CA in their food and agriculture production systems.

“The message must be put in the right context. CA technology ensures that even if you have inadequate rain, too much rain or enough you’re guaranteed to get a harvest. The countries should consider the farming approaches that use fertilizer efficiently,” Collins Nkatiko, Chief Executive Officer of Conservation Farming Unit (CFU), Zambia said.

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