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NEVER HEARD OF IT Sustainable farming approaches look like win-win solutions, but small- scale farmers have not adopted these practices in large numbers. “Each technology faces barriers to adoption that are very context specific. You need to understand the particular market failures or other barriers in each situation,” says Magnan.


One important barrier for conserva- tion agriculture is lack of awareness and understanding. “Te barriers to adoption include lack of technical know-how both by farmers and ex- tension staff,” says Kufasi Shela, chief land resources conservation officer in Malawi’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development. “Some extension staff are yet to understand what conservation agri- culture is and what it is not, and this ultimately affects the way they relate to their farmers.”


Work by IFPRI Senior Research Fel- low Ephraim Nkonya confirms this. When extension agents in Nigeria and Uganda were asked what advice they give to farmers about improv-


ing yields, about 70 percent advised using better seeds as a first response, followed closely by chemical fertiliz- ers, then pesticides. Only 1 percent of the respondents talked about organic practices such as intercropping with trees, an element in the wider suite of conservation agriculture practices.


Te problem is similar in Morocco, where two-thirds of cereal farmers depend on rainfall and the frequency of drought has risen from an average of one in eight years in the mid-20th century to a more recent average of one in two years. Conservation agriculture has been shown effec- tive in improving soils, sustaining yields, and lowering farmers’ costs in the region. But Rachid Mrabet, director of research for Morocco’s Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, says because extension staff are unfamiliar with conserva- tion agriculture practices they aren’t strong promoters.


A NEW MINDSET Abandoning the plow requires a dif- ferent vision of what farming entails.


“You need a mindset from farmers and researchers to go from plowing a field to not doing anything,” says Bruno Gerard, who leads the Con- servation Agriculture Program of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).


Tere are other practical consider- ations as well. Like other agricultural technologies, conservation agriculture works only if it is adapted to the needs of the local ecology, the farming system, and the farmer’s own plot.


Tis demands a lot from farmers, who need to make complicated and informed decisions about how to allocate labor, fertilizer, seed, and equipment, as well as time and effort. If immediate yield gains are not as- sured, they can be reluctant to adopt the practice. Still, Gerard says, their savings in fuel and water and the possibility of lengthening the growing period—by eliminating the time re- quired for plowing—can raise profits, even if yields don’t rise in the first year.


Small-scale farmers are often reluc- tant to leave crop residues in the field because they normally feed the resi-


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EASTERN UTTAR PRADESH, INDIA R. K. Malik of the CSISA and Travis Lybbert of the University of Cali- fornia, Davis—here shown examining wheat—are IFPRI partners in research on conservation agriculture.


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