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Global conservation agriculture efforts

October 31, 2008

1Outreach efforts for conservation agriculture (CA) took place in India, Africa and Mexico throughout the month of October. In Bihar, India, nearly 100 farmers attended a traveling seminar on CA 20-21 October 2008. Attendees, all from districts that use resource-conserving technologies (RCTs), visited CIMMYT-India experiments on zero-tillage rice (ZTR) in ricewheat or rice-maize systems and local fields that use permanent bed planting or zerotillage.

In Begusarai, the farmers interacted with scientists and viewed ZTR trials for weed management, seed multiplication, nitrogen management, and other trials. Many expressed special interest in new cultivars and new herbicides for controlling weeds.

At Rajendra Agriculture University (RAU), the seminar covered crop establishment experiments of rice-wheat and rice-maize systems and a weed management trial on double zero-tillage rice-wheat systems. RAU Director of Research, Dr. B.C. Chaudhry, urged farmers to adopt RCTs in winter crops to ensure timely planting and resource conservation and suggested incorporating other methods, such as intercropping. The Director of Extension, Dr. A.K. Chaudhry further emphasized the need for farmers to test, adopt, and spread the message among fellow farmers about RCTs. Ravi Gopal, CIMMYT research scientist, outlined the center’s program in Bihar and shared results from permanent trials at RAU.

Training with Total LandCare
3Meanwhile, in Salima, Malawi, Pat Wall of CIMMYT and Christian Thierfelder of CIAT led two 2-day courses on CA at the request of regional NGO Total LandCare. CIMMYT began working with Total LandCare in 2005, and the organization has since successfully extended the use of CA in several communities in Malawi. Attended by 54 Total LandCare technical staff, the latest course trained the NGO’s “front-line” personnel who will use their knowledge to bring CA to other communities in Malawi.

Despite scorching temperatures, participants visited fields in the community of Zidyana near Nkhotakota to examine the effect of tillage—done here with hand hoes—on soil structure and soil quality and discussed and practiced using and calibrating knapsack sprayers and jab planters. Later, sitting comfortably on crop residues under the shade of local farmer Excelina Azele’s mango tree, participants listened to her describe her experiences with CA and why she is expanding its use on her farm. By the end of the course, participants said they better understood CA aims and were now in a stronger position to start working with farmers on CA in their communities.

CA off the field
2Bram Govaerts (left in the photo), CIMMYT conservation agriculture specialist, represented CIMMYT during 28-30 October 2008 at the Conservation Agriculture Carbon Offset Expert Consultation, organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Conservation Technology Information Center. The event, held at the Beck Agricultural Center in West Lafayette, Indiana, gathered scientists, researchers, and CA experts from Africa, Australia, Canada, Central America, India, South America, and the USA, among others, and focused on how CA can engage in the global carbon offset market.

Key topics included the latest research on the impacts of CA on carbon and greenhouse gases around the world; tools for monitoring and measuring carbon sequestration to enable credit trading; demand for a carbon market; how carbon markets are functioning in different regions; barriers and opportunities to adopting low-emissions farming techniques; and a tour of Purdue’s no-till research plots.

Govaerts also attended the First Socio-cultural and Scientific Conference, a scientific-academic forum convened by the Mexican District Federal Government in Mexico City 8-9 October 2008 titled “Maize Forum: From Quetzalcóatl to Transgenics: Science and Culture of Maize in Mexico.” The event focused on the future of maize in Mexico and included a discussion about the risks of transgenic maize. Govaerts shared CIMMYT’s work on CA and explained that if Mexican farmers would use this technology—which keeps crop residues on the soil surface and avoids excessive movement of soil—their yields would increase significantly.