What is Conservation Agriculture (CA)

Before defining what Conservation Agriculture (CA) is, many people associated with agriculture suggest that present day agriculture is facing an impending crisis due to multiple factors. The following is a list presented by the Noble Research Institute on their web site and also found on many others:

This section of this web site looks at various suggestions for reversing this issue. The main subject is Conservation Agriculture that was formally coined by the FAO (2008) as a concept for resource-efficient agricultural crop production based on integrated management of soil, water, and biological resources combined with external inputs. However, reduced tillage was introduced in the 1930’s in the US to combat the “Dust Bowl” tragedy.

CA is the main management system for this web site for addressing some but not all of these issues, but others are listed later. CA is a set of soil management practices that minimize the disruption of the soil's physical structure, composition, and natural biodiversity that can reverse soil degradation resulting from present intensive tillage of soil. Despite high variability in the types of crops grown and specific management regimes, all forms of conservation agriculture share three core principles. These include:

However, CA farmers also need to use other modern technology and best practices where available such as:

When these CA practices are used by farmers one of the major environmental benefits is reduction in fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that helps with mitigation of Climate Change. But they also reduce the power/energy needs of farmers who use manual or animal powered systems and thus reduce the drudgery of farming for males and females.

Other Important Definitions

Conservation agriculture is largely the product of the collective efforts of a number of previous agricultural movements, including no-till agriculture, agroforestry, green manures/cover crops, direct planting/seeding, integrated pest management, and conservation tillage among many others. Yet CA is distinct from each of these so-called agricultural packages, even as it draws upon many of their core principles. This is because CA uses many of the available technologies in unison, resulting in something many believe to be much greater than the "sum of its parts."

The following terms are often confused with conservation agriculture while others have recently been introduced as sustainable farming options although all need to consider the CA management system as a component of these new system.

CA is often used synonymously with ZT that is also believed to require heavy implements and large tractors. However, CA can be used by farmers with large or small holdings as follows:

Farmers who do not own tractors can also avail of the tractor powered systems through use of hiring or service providers, a common system for plowing in many developing countries.

Other Definitions of Sustainable Systems (CA)

The following FAO definition is also useful to understand what CSA is:
Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach that helps guide actions to transform agri-food systems towards green and climate resilient practices. CSA supports reaching internationally agreed goals such as the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. It aims to tackle three main objectives: sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes; adapting and building resilience to climate change; and reducing and/or removing greenhouse gas emissions, where possible.
CSA supports the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-2031 based on the Four Betters: better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all, leaving no one behind. What constitutes a CSA practice is context-specific, depending on local socio-economic, environmental and climate change factors. FAO recommends the approach is implemented through five actions points: expanding the evidence base for CSA, supporting enabling policy frameworks, strengthening national and local institutions, enhancing funding, and financing options, and implementing CSA practices at field level. (FAO Climate Smart Agriculture)

Regenerative agriculture strives to work with nature rather than against it. Regenerative agriculture is more than just being sustainable. It is about reversing degradation and building up the soil to make it healthier than its current state. It’s goal is to Improve land, livestock, livelihoods, and ecosystem services such as energy flow, the water and nutrient cycle, and community dynamics (Noble Research Institute)
There are 4 Basic Regenerative Farming Practices:

At its core, regenerative agriculture is the process of restoring degraded soils using practices (e.g., adaptive grazing, no-till planting, no or limited use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizer, etc.) based on ecological principles.

“Agroecology represents an overarching and comprehensive systems framework to guide public policies towards sustainable agriculture and food systems. It enhances public efficiency by fostering integrated and inter-ministerial policy design and implementation, bringing together agricultural and food sectors that are often disaggregated. It actively engages different stakeholders through inter-disciplinary mechanisms which favor a responsible and transparent governance of resources. As a result, agroecological transitions can support the simultaneous achievement of multiple sustainability objectives – economic, environmental, social, nutritional, health and cultural – holistically and in integrated manner at different levels and scales while being adapted for different environmental and cultural contexts.”
They go on to say “Agroecology is based on bottom-up and territorial processes, helping to deliver contextualized solutions to local problems with people at the center. There is no single way to apply agroecological approaches – it depends on local contexts, constraints and opportunities but there are common principles that have been articulated in the framework of the 10 Elements of Agroecology.”

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