Conservation Agriculture (CA)Global


Conservation Agriculture (CA) was introduced in the 1930s as a soil conservation system to counter the Dust Bowl in the United States. More recently, it has become widely promoted and adopted in Latin America. In Africa, however, adoption rates by small-scale farmers has been slower and more context specific (FAO 2009 1). CA is based on three principles (Richards et al. 2014 2):

  • Minimum soil disturbance: Zero tillage is ideal, but the system may involve controlled tillage in which no more than 20 to 25% of the soil surface is disturbed.
  • Retention of crop residues or other soil surface cover: Many definitions of CA use 30% permanent organic soil cover as the minimum, but the ideal level of soil cover is site-specific.
  • Use of crop rotations: Crop rotation, ideally with legumes, helps reduce build-up of weeds, pests and diseases. Where farmers do not have enough land to rotate crops, intercropping can be used.
Relationship to CSA

CA supports adaptation through reduced risk of rainfall run-off and soil erosion and can help buffer against drought through increased storage of water in the soil profile. This is particularly important in regions where future climates are projected to become drier and/or extreme rainfall events more frequent. CA can mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration in the soil, though this benefit may not be as large on a global level as has been hoped (Richards et al. 2014). 2

CA practices together with best management practices in the rice- and wheat-based cropping systems of South Asia increased productivity substantially whereas the global warming potential intensity decreased. Positive economic returns and less use of water, labor, nitrogen, and fossil fuel energy per unit food produced were also achieved (Ladha et al. 2016). 3

Impacts and lessons learned

In spite of its many positive attributes, CA is not universally applicable and innovative approaches for promotion among small-scale farmers are often required. Possible constraints include:

  • Insufficient quantity of residues and the need for crop residues as livestock feed.
  • Fertilizers are sometimes necessary as a complement to legume residues in order to increase crop yields and the available quantity of crop residues.
  • Weeds are a major challenge in smallholder cropping systems. Many adaptations of CA use herbicides to control weeds.
  • While CA can increase yields in the long term, farmers may need to wait 3 to 7 years to see such increases. As with other long-term investments, insecure land tenure presents an additional constraint (Richards et al. 2014). 2

See also several case studies from Africa at


  • 1

    FAO. 2009. Scaling-up Conservation Agriculture in Africa: Strategy and Approaches. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: The FAO Subregional Office for Eastern Africa. This booklet aims at providing the basis for upscaling Conservation Agriculture by addressing the strategy and approaches to engage policy makers and other stakeholders (farmers, agro pastoralists and pastoralists, donors, researchers, extensions and the private sector) in the challenge to move beyond pilot and demonstration plots.
  • 2

    Richards M, Sapkota T, Stirling C, Thierfelder C, Verhulst N, Friedrich T, Kienzle J. 2014. Conservation agriculture: Implementation guidance for policymakers and investors. Climate-Smart Agriculture Practice Brief. Copenhagen, Denmark: CCAFS. Conservation agriculture (CA) can increase resilience to climate change and has the potential to contribute to climate change mitigation. The benefits of CA are highly site- specific. Innovative approaches are needed to overcome barriers for uptake of CA by smallholders.
  • 3

    Ladha JK, Rao AN, Raman A, ..., Noor S. 2016. Agronomic improvements can make future cereal systems in South Asia far more productive and result in a lower environmental footprint. Global Change Biology 22, 1054-1074.

    South Asian countries will have to double their food production by 2050 while using resources more efficiently and minimizing environmental problems. Transformative management approaches and technology solutions will be required in the major grain-producing areas that provide the basis for future food and nutrition security. This study was conducted in four locations representing major food production systems of densely populated regions of South Asia. Novel production-scale research platforms were established to assess and optimize three futuristic cropping systems and management scenarios (S2, S3, S4) in comparison with current management (S1). With best agronomic management practices (BMPs), including conservation agriculture (CA) and cropping system diversification, the productivity of rice- and wheat-based cropping systems of South Asia increased substantially, whereas the global warming potential intensity (GWPi) decreased. Positive economic returns and less use of water, labor, nitrogen, and fossil fuel energy per unit food produced were achieved. In comparison with S1, S4, in which BMPs, CA and crop diversification were implemented in the most integrated manner, achieved 54% higher grain energy yield with a 104% increase in economic returns, 35% lower total water input, and a 43% lower GWPi. Conservation agriculture practices were most suitable for intensifying as well as diversifying wheat-rice rotations, but less so for rice-rice systems. This finding also highlights the need for characterizing areas suitable for CA and subsequent technology targeting. A comprehensive baseline dataset generated in this study will allow the prediction of extending benefits to a larger scale.


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CCAFS Climate-Smart Agriculture 101

The basics

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an integrative approach to address these interlinked challenges of food security and climate change, that explicitly aims for three objectives:

A. Sustainably increasing agricultural productivity, to support equitable increases in farm incomes, food security and development;

B. Adapting and building resilience of agricultural and food security systems to climate change at multiple levels; and

C. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture (including crops, livestock and fisheries).

Entry points

Agriculture affects and is affected by climate change in a wide range of ways and there are numerous entry points for initiating CSA programmes or enhancing existing activities. Productivity, mitigation and adaptation actions can take place at different technological, organizational, institutional and political levels. To help you navigate these myriad entry points we have grouped them under three Thematic Areas: (i) CSA practices, (ii) CSA systems approaches, and (iii) Enabling environments for CSA. Each entry point is then described and analysed in terms of productivity, adoption and mitigation potential and is illustrated with cases studies, references and internet links for further information.

Develop a CSA plan

Planning for, implementing and monitoring CSA projects and programmes evolves around issues of understanding the context including identification of major problems/barriers and opportunities related to the focus of the programme; developing and prioritizing solutions and designing plans; implementation; and monitoring and evaluation. Most major development agencies have their own framework for project and programme formulation and management but CCAFS has developed a specific approach for planning, implementing and assessing CSA projects and programme called CSA plan. CSA plan was developed to provide a guide for operationalizing CSA planning, implementation and monitoring at scale. CSA plan consist of four major components: (1) Situation analysis; (2) Targeting and prioritizing; (3) Program support; and (4) Monitoring. evaluation and learning.


To meet the objectives of CSA, such as agricultural development, food security and climate change adaptation and mitigation, a number of potential funding sources are available. For instance, climate finance sources may be used to leverage agriculture finance and mainstream climate change into agricultural investments. This section offers an overview of potential sources of funding for activities in climate-smart agriculture (CSA) at national, regional and international levels and for a number of different potential ‘clients’ including governments, civil society, development organizations and others. Additionally, it includes options to search among a range of funding opportunities according to CSA focus area, sector and financing instrument.

Resource library

CSA Guide provides a short and concise introduction and overview of the multifaceted aspects of climate-smart agriculture. At the same time it offers links to references and key resources that allows for further investigations and understanding of specific topics of interest. In the resource library we have gathered all the references, key resources, terms and questions in one place for a quick overview and easy access that can be used as a part of or independently of the other sections of the website. The resource library is divided into six sections; (1) References – list all publications, links and blogs referred to on the website; (2) Tools – list all the CSA tools presented on the website; (3) Key terms – explains the most important and frequently used terms related to CSA; (4) Frequently asked questions (FAQ) – provides a rapid overview of the most common questions asked on climate-smart agriculture; (5) About – where you can find out more about the purpose and structure of, as well as on the organizations and authors behind the website; (6) Contact.

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