The role of Conservation Agriculture in Climate Smart Agriculture

Conservation Agriculture

The Western Cape Province and especially the agricultural sector is facing climate change with projections of continued warming of between 1.5 °C and 3 °C over the next 30 years. It is predicted that temperatures will soar, and heatwaves will become more commonplace. Dry spells and an increase in the occurrence of drought might well be a regular feature in our future. The possibility of rainfall events becoming less frequent, but more severe, might also occur. Overall the prediction is that our climate will become more unpredictable, therefore we look at the role of Conservation Agriculture in Climate Smart Agriculture.

The Western Cape Government (with the Department of Agriculture leading) has commissioned the developed and implementation of a SmartAgri Plan (Midgley et al, 2016) to help with the transition of the agricultural sector to become climate smart to ensure long-term resilience. The plan is available online (www.greenagri.org.za) and one of the priority projects that has been identified to lead the sector into the future, is Conservation Agriculture (CA).

Conservation Agriculture refers to a farming system where three principles are adopted – (i) minimum disturbance of the soil, (ii) permanent year-round soil cover (living or dead), and (iii) sound crop rotations and/or associations using diverse species. To better understand the role of CA in terms of climate change adaptation and mitigation we will discuss the adaptation potential under these three pillars. CA is a holistic production system where the success depends on the integration of all the principles. The system includes a focus on sound agricultural practices such as the integrated management of weeds, nutrients, pests, and livestock.

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