Monday, November 2, 2009: 10:30 AM
Convention Center, Room 327, Third Floor
Conservation agriculture consists of direct seeding into mulch, crop rotation diversity, and cover crops in fallow periods. Conservation agriculture offers the promise to reduce soil erosion and improve soil quality, improve water use efficiency, and cropping intensification, while reducing labor requirements. The need to improve agricultural productivity and soil management in the face of rapidly increasing population pressure in West Africa is clear. Changes are already taking place in West African agriculture to accommodate increasing population pressure and urbanization. For example, rice production has increased 4-fold and rice now constitutes 12% of the caloric intake of the West African population compared with only 7% in the 1960s. Soil and water conservation technologies have been adopted widely in select regions, such as mulching with unpalatable grasses; zai planting pits to concentrate runoff and manure; stone walls; stone lines; bench and step terraces; earth bunds; micro-basins; mounding; crop residue lines; vegetation barriers; grass strips; low-lying crescent embankments; raised beds; and tied ridges. These developments are having a positive impact, improving crop yields and farmer incomes, soil conservation and rehabilitation, and water use efficiency. There is convincing evidence of increased tree cover and water tables in areas of the Sahel due to changing farming practices. Some important breakthroughs in agricultural research also offer reason for hope. For example the New Rice for Africa (NERICA) varieties are already impacting the region. The System of Rice Intensification is another example. Conservation agriculture systems for West Africa should build and improve on what has worked and been adopted and incorporate the opportunities offered by new technologies. This occasions the need for researchers to work intensively with field technicians, agrobusinesses and farmers, with appropriate policy support, to improve the livelihoods of rural and urban communities in the region.