Conservation Agriculture Production Systems

The research theme of SANREM’s current phase (Phase IV) is to develop conservation agriculture production systems (CAPS). Our research is aimed at increasing smallholder’s agricultural productivity and food security through improved cropping systems. In addition to increasing food security, CAPS will contribute to and take advantage of improved soil quality and fertility.

Farming systems with CAPS will:

  • Maintain a year-round soil cover
  • Minimize soil disturbance by tillage
  • Utilize crop rotation systems
A no-till field in Mali, with goats feeding on crop residue.

Crop residue protects the soil from erosion on a field in Mali. Over time, the cover will help increase soil organic matter and soil fertility.

Farmers often burn crop residue or let livestock graze it, which leaves the soil bare to rain and wind. CAPS minimize soil loss by leaving the crop residue on the ground. Cover crops also improve the stability of soil, control weeds and pests, and increase biodiversity.

Plowing can reduce soil organic matter. Instead of plowing, CAPS reduces tillage by planting seeds directly into the soil, with minimal soil disturbance. Minimal till equipment varies, from tractor pulled equipment to dibblers, which are pointed sticks used to make holes in the ground for seeds.

Growing the same crop every season allows pests, diseases, and weeds to increase. Planting mixes of crops in the same field, and rotating those crops can prevent those problems.

One of SANREM CRSP’s goals is to develop locally appropriate CAPS and test its ability to:

  • Increase smallholder food production
  • Be adoptable and economically viable for smallholders
  • Improve the productive capacity of smallholder soils
  • Enhance ecosystem services through improvements in soil cover, carbon, and quality

CAPS is a viable option for many farmers worldwide, but holds particular promise for smallholders in developing countries. CAPS adoption can increase crop yields while reducing production costs, decrease labor needs, and increase soil fertility.