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winter 2013 PArtnerS
one of the enduring images of agriculture is a plough running
through soil, carving large furrows in the earth. For millennia
land was tilled by hoes or ploughs pulled by animals. Only in the
past two centuries has mechanisation redrawn the iconic imagery of
land under cultivation.
Ploughing soils began in rich, fertile farmlands, such as the nile Delta,
and in the cradle of agriculture in the tigris and euphrates river systems
of iraq. the renewal of these soils, such as by the annual inundation in
the nile Delta, helped ensure these lands remained productive.
the process of tilling soils in dry countries such as Australia proved
less successful. Declining fertility was a by-product of continual
disturbance of soils. nutrients, micro-organisms, moisture and trace
elements, all essential to maintaining productive cropping, were lost
as soil structures broke down. A consequence of this breakdown was
reduced resilience against pests and diseases. A new approach to soil
management was needed.
An increasing awareness of the fragility of the environment also
prompted a rethink of how soils were managed. Agricultural science
was able to maintain and reverse declines in soil productivity in the
short-term through a focus on managing environmental stresses in
combination with new varieties.
what became increasingly clear was that a better way was needed
to deliver long-term sustainability by nurturing soils through trying to
restore and maintain a natural balance within soils.
the solution was found in a new approach—conservation
CA is centred on the principles of minimising soil disturbance
to maintain and restore fertility; adopting permanent groundcover
through the use of stubble and straw, and seeding via specialised
equipment to minimise soil disturbance; and diversifying cropping
rotations to improve fertility and enhance pest and disease control.
while there remains debate in scientific circles about the full benefits
of CA, tailored approaches to local conditions have consistently been
proven to lift yields among smallholder farmers.
this issue of Partners tells the story of ACiAr’s program to extend
CA to parts of the developing world in South Asia, Africa and China.
A feature of ACiAr’s program to extend CA is found in knowledge-
sharing, notably in a recent partnership linking African nations to
indian and Australian expertise.
Several themes also run through CA projects: reducing manual
labour, both through practical approaches to CA and through the
introduction of mechanisation; adapting CA to local environments and
constraints; the importance of appropriate policy settings to support
CA; and the ability of CA approaches to reduce water use.
the revolution in CA in india and Pakistan is reported, including
developments of the Happy Seeder and other technologies. From this
base, ACiAr has worked to further CA in Bangladesh (page 14), iraq
(page 20) and Africa (page 16).
today, Australia has a higher percentage of land under CA than any
other country. ACiAr is working to share the Australian experience and
the benefits with the dryland areas of the developing world. n
Rethinking soil management
Yield growth the weak link in the food
the world once again faces the need to quickly
increase the yield of staple cereals to meet rapid
growth in global demand. with Green revolution
solutions to yield gains no longer viable options, the
challenge is creating the need for a new package of
A primer on conser vation agriculture principles,
techniques, adoption figures and ACIAr involvement.
Drilling into a revolution
Four ‘revolutions’ in conser vation agriculture in India,
in which ACIAr is a partner, are helping ensure the
region’s food bowl continues to meet an accelerating
demand for grain.
raised beds prove their worth
the versatility of conser vation agriculture was
demonstrated in Pakistan, where trials were found to
vastly decrease hardships for wheat–maize croppers.
But no progress is ever truly possible without a
broader social coalition willing to drive it.
new technologies ease the burden 14
Properly adapted conservation agriculture
technology delivered alongside sweeping agronomic,
environmental and productivity innovations are
helping Bangladeshi rural communities escape poverty.
Muscle to machines: cutting
labour drudgery in Africa
Drawing lessons from Australia, Bangladesh and
India, a new ACIAr/AIFSC-funded project in Africa will
help mechanise conser vation agriculture and relieve
women of exhausting manual labour.
technology returned to
Conservation agriculture as practised in Australia has
proven to be a viable technology in war and drought-
scarred Iraq, where it has been introduced within a
package of assistance provided by Australia to help
rebuild Iraq’s agricultural sector.
A feature of ACIAR’s program to extend conservation agriculture
is found in knowledge-sharing, notably in a recent partnership
linking African nations to Indian and Australian expertise.
Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), aciar.gov.au
GPO Box 1571, Canberra ACT 2601, Australia
© Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)
This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act
1968, no part may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission
issn 1031-1009 (Print)
issn 1839-616X (online)
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