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Conservation agriculture: higher yield, lower cost

Scaling-up: This technology is suitable for both irrigated and rainfed systems, but particularly for subsistence farmers in dry areas with poor soils.

Conservation agriculture is used in most of the world’s high-performing food production systems to strengthen soil structure and fertility, improve water retention and bring farmers savings in cost and labor for comparable yields. But conservation practices have yet to be taken-up in many low-income countries with fragile ecosystems.

ICARDA trials with national partners in Iraq, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia are demonstrating to farmers how they can reduce production costs, and simultaneously improve yield and soil quality, by using conservation agriculture.

Conservation agriculture combines minimum tillage, retention of crop stubble, and use of crop rotations. It significantly reduces production costs, while improving crop yields, soil health and nutrient recycling.

The benefits have been documented in field trials on wheat, barley, lentil and chickpea. By using conservation agriculture together with good crop management, farmers can increase net revenues by about $ 120 per hectare. The extra revenue comes from higher yields (12% increase) and lower production costs (saving $40 per hectare for each eliminated plowing).

In four years, adoption has grown from zero to almost 27,000 hectares in Iraq and Syria. To encourage mechanization, specially designed zero-tillage seeders have been developed. The seeders are manufactured locally by small-scale entrepreneurs. They cost $ 1500 to $ 5000, compared to $ 50,000 to $ 60,000 for imported machines.