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2.3 Conservation tillage questions for East and Southern Africa

2.3.1 Crop yields and potential

Potential yield of most crops in SSA can be increased two to four times by judicious use of off- farm inputs such as chemical fertilizers, appropriate farm tools, improved varieties, etc. (FAO, 1978; see Table 4). With traditional systems of resource- based agriculture, agronomic yields of most crops are low. An important reason for low yields is the widespread system of no-input, resource-based, subsistence farming. For example, the average fertilizer use in SSA, although more than doubled over the decade ending 1987, was merely 8kg ha-1 of major nutrients. There is a potential for irrigation to mitigate the drought. However, currently only 5 million hectares of land is being irrigated. Furthermore, use of improved cultivators and of high production systems is currently limited to merely 5 to 6% of the arable land (Lal, 1993b).

2.3.2 Contil questions

In addressing the conservation tillage problems and progress in ESA, three basic questions need to be


  • 1.

    What are the complexities of the general Contil effort and what are the real or specialized challenges the region and individual countries must contend with?

  • 2.

    Are there adequate technologies and techniques available to manage soil and water resources for the much needed enhanced agricultural productivity?

  • 3.

    Are the available conservation tillage technologies being adopted and what further action is needed to arrest the prevailing deteriorating situation and destruction of fauna and flora?

    • 2.4

      Why conservation tillage?

Conventional tillage practice is one where the hand hoe is used each season to dig and turn the soil over, with an effort placed to break the clods and leave a fine tilth. When animal power is used farmers make several runs with the mouldboard plough, while they remain unaware of other equipment like harrows and ridgers. Where these

Box 3: Technology adoption in SSA

An important question that has repeatedly been asked is whether technically viable and station – proven technologies are being adopted. The answer to this question is no. Most technological innovations have proven successful in on-station experimentation and in research-managed on-farm trials. However, farmers of SSA have not abandoned the age-old traditional systems based on hoe, machete, and the match box. The absence of poor adoption of improved and apparently high- yielding technologies deserves the attention of sociologists, anthropologists, policy makers, and extension specialists. One of the principal reasons for the low rate of adoption is the topdown approach of research, without the participation of the farmer in prioritizing critical issues, defining research methods, and in validating and adopting the technology by fine tuning it to local conditions. Researchers often perceive a research problem according to their assessment of the farmer’s constraints to enhancing production. Researchers design methodology for on-station or on-farm experimentation, develop a hyphothesis, collect and analyze data and publish results without interaction with farmers. It is not surprising, therefore, that the so called “improved technology” is often rejected by the farmers of SSA. Agricultural sustainability is extricably linked with recognition of the farmer being the premier research client and with the farmer’s effective participation. Has response by donor agencies been timely, adequate and effective in providing financial assistance to overcome the crisis and alleviate sufferings? An answer to this question is vividly presented by Lele (1991). It is argued that over the three decades ending in 1990, billions of dollars have been transferred from developed countries to Africa. It seems, however, that most of this aid has been rather ineffective in stimulating growth, breaking the vicious cycle, and alleviating poverty and human suffering. The problem lies both with national policies and donor perception. Furthermore, donors need to coordinate their assistance with regard to long-term development strategies and institutional building.

Overall, the success rate was about 25% for projects initiated in 1970s and 56% for those initiated in 1980s. Similar conclusions of low success rate (12-40%) were arrived at by a survey conducted by the World Bank (1984; 1985, p.38-43; 1986). He concluded that technology should be appropriate and tested locally; offer short-term, on-site benefits, and large increments (50-100%); require affordable inputs, especially labour; not include foregone benefits, e.g., giving up land; not include any increased risk; and be in tune with existing social factors, e.g., the separate roles of men and women in agriculture.

(Lal 1996)


This paper is published in: Kaumbutho P G and Simalenga T E (eds), 1999. Conservation tillage with animal traction. A resource book of the

Animal Traction Network for Eastern and Southern Africa (ATNESA). Harare. Zimbabwe. 173p. A publication supported by French Cooperation, Namibia. For details of ATNESA and its resource publications, see http://www.atnesa.org

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