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Conservation Agriculture in Lesotho

Conservation tillage

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Tillage is the agricultural preparation of the soil by mechanical, draught-animal or human-powered agitation, such as ploughing, digging, overturning, shovelling, hoeing and raking. Small-scale farming tends to use smaller-scale methods using hand-tools and in some cases draught animals, whereas medium to large-scale farming tends to use the larger-scale methods such as tractors. The overall goal of tillage is to increase crop production while conserving resources (soil and water) and protecting the environment (IBSRAM, 1990).

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In Lesotho, conservation farming practices have transformed agriculture and made the food systems much more resilient.  A planting basin system known locally as ‘likoti’ (Sesotho word for “holes”) has been adopted widely (Silici, 2010), promoted by several NGO's including 'Growing Nations'. 

Agriculture is the main source of livelihoods in Lesotho, mainly maize production. Land degradation and soil erosion affected the country since the 19th Century, and conventional agricultural tillage had contributed to this. Soil erosion posed a severe threat due to the mountainous topography of the country and poor phosphorus content of the naturally acidic soil.

‘Conservation Agriculture’ (CA) is a farming method that involves three key characteristics; (1) minimal mechanical soil disturbance (2) maintaining carbon-rich mulch (3) crop rotation including nitrogen-fixing plants.  About 8% of global arable cropland is currently covered by these systems, ranging from small to large farms (FAO, 2010).  The system involves sustainable intensification, saves energy through minimum tillage, sequesters soil carbon through mulching, and minimises the use of energy-intensive fertilisers therefore improving resource efficiency. In these ways the system contributes to mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, the CA system also contributes to adaptation to climate change, because the protective layer of mulch reduces soil erosion from rainwater and reduces risk of flooding in wet conditions. In dry conditions, the layer of mulch reduces evaporation of water and therefore reduces crop water requirements. 

Poor communities can be trapped in a vicious cycle where poverty and food
insecurity feed into human pressures on natural resources, increasing soil erosion and land
degradation, which causes further poverty. Conservation agriculture can help to break this cycle through agricultural
transformation and increased productivity.   

 

Author: Helena Wright

References:FAO, 2010. Climate-Smart Agriculture: Policies, Practices and Financing for Food Security, Adaptation and Mitigation. http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/newsroom/docs/the-hague-conference-fao-paper.pdf 
Silico, 2010.  Conservation Agriculture
and Sustainable Crop Intensification. Integrated Crop Management, Vol 10, Plant Production and Protection Division, FAO, Rome. http://www.fao.org/docrep/012/i1650e/i1650e00.pdf
 

Implementing Partners: 

Christian NGO’s including ‘Growing Nations’, Reverend Basson. 

Location

South-West
Lesotho
Stage of Project: 
completed
Main activity and output: 

The system involves sustainable intensification, saves energy through minimum tillage, sequesters soil carbon through mulching, and minimises the use of energy-intensive fertilisers therefore improving resource efficiency. In these ways the system contributes to mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, conservation agriculture also contributes to adaptation to climate change, because the protective layer of mulch reduces soil erosion from rainwater and reduces risk of flooding in wet conditions. In dry conditions, the layer of mulch reduces evaporation of water and therefore reduces crop water requirements. 

Expected impact: 

 

Data also found that in some areas maize yields by CA farmers were more than three times the district average yield for that growing season (Silico, 2010). 

Greater profit was obtained by CA practices compared to conventional tillage methods, which had often led to a net loss. 

Increase in food security status was also measurable, with the food consumptions score (FCS), a World Food Program measure of the diversity of the diet, being significantly higher for the CA sample (Silico, 2010).  

 

Information about costs: 

N/A

The human workload was found to be higher in the initial stages, which requires available labour, but this could also be spread out over time (Silico, 2010) and can increase employment. 

Lessons learned: 

Participatory approaches towards CA training were found to be the most effective and led to more appropriate application of CA principles. Overall, the CA practices were found to lead to higher agricultural productivity, social sustainability, and environmental sustainability including increased biodiversity and improved soil structure.

FAO data shows that agricultural production is still going down in Lesotho, overall, which may be due to other pressures.