Overview of conservation tillage practises in East and Southern Africa
2 3 T.E. Simalenga3 Kenya Network for Draught Animal Technology (KENDAT), P.O Box 61441 Nairobi Kenya Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Box 7033. S-750 70 Uppsala Sweden University of Fort Hare, Private Bag X1314, Alice 5700, South Africa
Smallholder agriculture in East and Southern Africa (ESA) has special gains to gather from the agricultural mechanization endeavour, which is at different levels in different countries and which remains a major challenge for governments and farmers alike. While tractorization programmes in the region have hardly served the power supply needs of smallholders, animal traction has proved itself as a dependable and versatile source of agricultural power for tillage and transport. While soil and water conservation efforts in the region are not new, tillage for soil and water conservation has seen many shortcomings, ranging from profession redress to technological limitations, institutional support and socio-economic bottlenecks. Conservation tillage has been practised in largescale farms of the region for a while and is now receiving new focus for smallholder agriculture, within a new re-awakening in the interest of soil, water and general environmental preservation. The region is losing as much as 290 metric tonnes of soil per hectare per year and faces an average population growth rate of 3.2%. This situation does not augur well in a region which is facing agrarian stagnation though endowed with a wide range of economically utilizable, but derapidating natural resources. Various research, extension and development work has proved the gains of conservation tillage. The gains are however yet to become common knowledge and translated to utilizable techniques adopted en masse. The traditional ways revolving around tedious and high drudgery manual operations persist. New, specialized and relatively simple conservation tillage equipment is yet to challenge the common and destructive mouldboard plough which is used as a multipurpose tool by smallholders. For real and fast progress, future efforts must cehtre around end user led, aggressive promotional, networked activities that avoid the low impact and duplicated top-down efforts of the past. A culture of environmental consciousness needs to be developed as a way of getting conservation tillage to the fore. The issue to be addressed is how to balance the inputs required so as to maximize efficiency and cost-effectiveness of inputs, reduce risks of soil and environmental degradation, maximize the per capita productivity, and maintain or sustain an increasing trend in productivity. With regard to technology output, the range of equipment including simple light- weight tools which can be used with donkeys (preferred by women) as well as capacity to package them for completeness needs to be explored. Packages will make it possible to exploit the complementary capacities of animal traction. Such packages will bring about the much needed entreprenurial creativity to make farmers implements serviceable as well as available for hire by those who cannot afford to own them. Among the recommendations made are farmer-centered, on-farm, participatory promotion methods and publicity, for sensitization, and environmental education; marrying traditional knowledge, ideas and practice, while addressing accompanying fears of users; farmer exchange visits; identifying suitable equipment and promoting the same nationally and regionally; field testing by farmers in multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral research, geared towards quantifying the real gains of conservation tillage. Technology transfer efforts need to capture environmental protection through gender-sensitve soil management techniques and planning. Other complementary approaches like agro-forestry and water harvesting practices need to be brought on board if the socio-economic well-being of all parties is to be fully supported. Back-up support will includeappropriate level capacity building at institutional and small industry level.