Delivering food security through conservation agriculture

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Assuring food security has been a central aspect of global governance efforts to promote prosperity, peace and stability. Unfortunately, with the growing population, trade globalization, shifting in food consumption demands, water and natural resources scarcity, instability in the volume of world food aid supply, climate change and desertification on farm land, make the food security condition is difficult to be reached (McDonald, 2011). However, McDonald (2011) highlights the fact that food security is not a target to be met, but that it is a progressive goal of ensuring access to food that is adequate, safe and nutritious. Yet, Dalby (2009) cited in McDonald (2011) points out the concerns over the impacts of population and scarcity of key resources such as food are not something new.

Desertification on farm and soil degradation have an immense negative impact on the productive capacity of soils. According to some research conducted by Ye and Ranst (2009) using a web-based land evaluation system in China, food crops may experience a 9 per cent loss in productivity by 2030 if the soil continues to be degraded at the current rate. Productivity losses will increase to the unbearable level of 30 per cent by 2050 should the soil be degraded at twice the present rate. More over, soil erosion affects soil depth and which in turn affects yields and farm output in the following years, that affect farmers income welfare as well (Holden and Shiferaw, 2004). Every year, 2–12 million hectares or 0.3–0.8 per cent of the world’s arable land is rendered unsuitable for agricultural production through soil degradation (Lal, 2007). Following those circumstances, in the early 1990s there was a sustainable intensification principle adopted by FAO which is called Conservation Agriculture to address those problems. Unfortunately, even this principle has a highly intention to promote a more sustainable way in doing agricultural practices to meet the global demands and underpin the food security, to link the agricultural intensification with conservation and hunger reduction is still face a great challenge (Kassam, 2011; Tscharntke et al., 2012)

This essay will first discuss about the principle of conservation agriculture, then moving on to the debate between conservation agriculture and conventional agriculture, and lastly will discuss about the ideal circumstances for conservation agriculture in order to tackle food insecurity. In this essay I examine conservation agriculture as a sustainable intensification which to some extent has key roles to tackle food insecurity.  However, this principle must be accompanied by fundamental change in global food systems as well.


2.1. Principle of Conservation Agriculture

Conservation Agriculture (CA) represents one of the new ‘biological and ecosystems’ paradigms for sustainable agricultural intensification that can include arable and perennial crops, pastures as well as trees and livestock (Landers, 2007). CA offers an ecological underpinning of all production systems that are land-based. It focusses resource conservation and profitable management of sustainable production intensification and ecosystem services. Basically, CA consists three interlinked principles that are better applied simultaneously (FAO, 2010; Friedrich and Kassam, 2009; Kassam et al., 2009). Here are the three principles of CA:

(1) Minimizing soil disturbance resulting from mechanical tillage and thus seeding or planting directly into untilled soil.

(2) Maintaining year-round organic matter cover over the top soil, including specially introduced cover crops or mulch provided by crop residues.

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(3) Diversifying crop rotations, adapted to local environmental conditions, and including appropriate nitrogen fixing legumes. The rotations contribute to maintain biodiversity around the soil, contributing nitrogen to the plant system, exploring different soil zones with varying rooting characteristics, helping to avoid pest build-up (Kassam et al., 2009).

2.2. Conservation Agriculture vs Conventional Agriculture

Though there are glaring cases of CA successes, for example the financial benefits for farmers in Paraguay who have adopted CA have been striking, but CA has not been widely acknowledged and accepted across the world (Borsy et al., 2013). The factors which influence farmer to adopt ...

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