Conservation Agriculture, key to Climate-Resilient Farming Systems

JEAS-Blog (January 2023)

Conservation Agriculture: Key to Climate-Resilient and Sustainable Farming Systems
Ahmad Latif Virk 1, Muhammad Ishaq Asif Rehmani 2,*
1 State Key Laboratory of Subtropical Silviculture, Zhejiang A&F University, Hangzhou, 311300, PR China
2 Department of Agronomy, Ghazi University, Dera Ghazi Khan, Pakistan

*mrehmani@gudgk.edu.pk


Conservation agriculture is a holistic approach to cropping system management, characterized by high and sustainable crop production.

Conservation agriculture is considered to be climate-smart agriculture. It helps farmers sustain, boost yields, increase profits, reverse land degradation, protect the environment, and respond to climate change. Therefore, conservation agriculture has the potential to ensure food security for rapidly increasing population under changing climatic conditions.

Conservation agriculture practices provide valuable support to ecological services through diversified and interrelated pathways.

Principles of Conservation Agriculture
It is a sustainable farming system based on the interrelated principles of minimal mechanical soil disturbance, permanent soil cover (with living or dead plant material), and crop diversification through rotation, intercropping, and agroforestry.

  1. Species Diversification
  2. Conservation Tillage
  3. Residue Management

1. Species Diversification

  • Crop rotation involves planting different crops in a particular field each year, rather than repeatedly planting the same crop. This helps to break pest and disease cycles, reduce the need for synthetic inputs, and improve soil health.
  • Adding Legume crops in Rotation
  • Agroforestry involves combining trees and crops in the same field to create a more diverse and sustainable farming system. It is the combination in space or time of trees and food crops such that the trees provide services beneficial to the associated crops.
  • Intercropping is growing two or more crops are grown in close proximity to each other. Intercropping can be done to obtain yield gain, soil improvement, reduce pest and disease pressure, and improve the overall sustainability of a farming system operation by creating a more diverse ecosystem, e.g., planting a cover or legume crop between rows of a cash crop.

Benefits of species diversification

  • Species diversification reduces pest and disease incidence,
  • Helpful in weed control by creating a more balanced ecosystem
  • Improves soil fertility and productivity: supplement nutrients in the soil through biological nitrogen fixation (legume plants), use of different soil profiles (different root depths)
  • Reduced climate risk Different crops have different susceptibility and tolerance to specific climate-induced stressors (drought, heatwave, disease, pests, etc), adding crop diversity in agricultural lands can increase resilience and reduces climate risk.
  • Reduces economic risk Crop diversifying crops can increase the resilience of agricultural systems to market fluctuations and disruptions, by adding multiple income sources and increasing the flexibility of farmers to adapt to changing market conditions

2. Conservation Tillage
Soil conservation practices reduce soil compaction, improve soil health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and protect soil from degradation, depletion, and erosion.

  • Minimum Tillage: This involves crop cultivation using machinery or techniques with minimum possible soil disturbance during land preparation.
  • Zero Tillage This involves crop cultivation using machinery or techniques without soil disturbance.

Benefits of Soil Conservation

  • Avoid soil compaction and prevent the formation of impermeable layer, Reduces soil erosion
  • Helps to preserve soil structure and improved soil fertility
  • Increases the soil organic matter
  • Increases soil biological activity
  • Reduces emission of greenhouse gases

3. Soil Cover and Residue Management

  • Cover crops (Living Mulch): These are crops that are planted between main crops to provide ground cover, suppress weeds, and improve soil fertility.
  • Mulching: This involves covering the soil surface with a layer of organic material, such as straw or wood chips, to reduce erosion, suppress weeds, improve soil moisture retention, and improvement of soil fertility.
  • Managed natural flora
  • Stubble and crop residue

Benefits of soil cover and residue management

  • Improve soil health
  • Improve water infiltration, water retention and soil aeration
  • Increase nutrient-holding capacity
  • Increase soil biological activity
  • Reduces water losses through evaporation
  • Buffers soil temperature
  • Reduce wind erosion

Principles of conservation agriculture (Photo Credit: CIMMYT)

How conservation agriculture can improve the resilience of agricultural systems against climate change?
Conservation agriculture can significantly improve the resilience of agricultural systems against changing climatic conditions and weather extremes and can assist farmers to achieve sustainable crop yields under adverse climatic conditions. Conservation agriculture can contribute to increasing the resilience of agricultural systems by following ways

  • Improved Soil Health: Conservation agriculture can improve soil health By minimizing soil disturbance and promoting biodiversity. 
  • It can contribute to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  •  It reduces carbon release from the soil into the atmosphere by minimizing soil disturbance
  • Improved Water Management: It reduces water losses, improves water efficiency and infiltration of water into the soil, and reduces reducing runoff and erosion, which can be helpful in reducing the risk of crop failure under extreme climatic conditions.
  • It can promote carbon sequestration through biodiversity and maintaining a permanent soil cover, and  help to increase soil organic matter, improve water retention and fertility, reduce erosion, and improve the soil’s ability to hold water
  • Reduces reliance on Chemical Inputs: It reduces reliance on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides
  • Reduces the risk of crop failure due to pests, diseases, or weeds. 
  • Reduce the environmental risks associated with chemical inputs, such as groundwater contamination and toxicity to non-target organisms.

Cite this Blog as:

Virk, L.A. and M.I.A. Rehmani. 2023. Conservation Agriculture: Key to Climate-Resilient and Sustainable Farming Systems. Agropublishers, Multan, Pakistan. JEAS-Blog. 2023(1): 1


Copyright © Virk and Rehmani, 2023  This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium provided the original author and source are appropriately cited and credited.

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7 Replies to “Conservation Agriculture, key to Climate-Resilient Farming Systems

  1. Informative…..
    In the case of conservative approaches, seed treatments may also helpful for conserving the time, and adding the sustainable nutrients.

    1. Rice straw burning releases trace species and pollutants (CO2, CO, CH4, N2O, NOx, NMHCs, PM, NO2, and SO2), and aerosols, affecting regional atmospheric chemistry. These pollutants are harmful to air quality leading to winter smog. This poses serious threats to human health, environmental quality and depletes nutrients from burned-out fields. Rice stubbles can be directly incorporated in the soil using rotavator or mouldboard plow or straw chopper. Moreover, happy seeder can help in sowing wheat directly in the soil with rice stubbles.

  2. what will be the initial adoption cost, from conventional agriculture to conservation agriculture, in terms of food security and finances involved

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