Given the chance, the financial and environmental benefits of conservation agriculture (CA) can sell themselves. The task for policy-makers and development partners is to give this innovative approach to agriculture a chance with farmers who are skeptical that crops can grow on land that has not been prepared with heavy plowing.
ICARDA’s experience has shown three key steps can lead to widespread adoption of conservation tillage:
- Raise awareness. Farmers and the national agricultural research and extension systems they depend on must be made aware of the principles and benefits of CA. This can be done by showing them how CA has worked in similar circumstances, preferably in neighboring countries. Field experiments on research stations can help convince them that the system works, and help fine-tune the system for local conditions and practices. Field days and training courses are the main avenues for raising initial awareness.
- Provide appropriate and affordable seeders. Farmers must have access to seeders that they can afford, operate, and maintain with their own resources. As farmers become interested in continuing to use CA they will create local demand for affordable seeders. Policy-makers and development partners can help local entrepreneurs acquire the capacity to manufacture seeders and kits for converting conventional seeders that are already being used to zero-tillage seeders. Manufacturers may require specialized training to improve their knowledge and skills, and access to quality parts and materials.
- Establish participatory extension groups. Once researchers, extensionists, and farmers understand CA principles, they need to see it in practice. ICARDA’s experience shows that the best way to do this is using a participatory extension approach, enlisting the collaboration of scientists, extension officers, socio-economists, policy-makers, machinery manufacturers, and farmers. To begin with, farmers should be able to test seeders free of charge. Above all, this phase must take a flexible approach to testing CA under local conditions and adapting it to meet farmers’ circumstances and resources. Farmers may require concessions that allow them to participate without fear of the consequences of crop failure.