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Conservation agriculture : the challenge of changing widespread farming practices in Madagascar

Written by Administrateur Modified on the

  • Site d'essais en Semis Direct sur Couverture Végétal de l'ONG TAFA à Antisabe, Madagascar.

Of the 20 million people in Madagascar, about 16 million people are directly or indirectly involved in agriculture and there are more than 2 million farms. Currently, several thousand farmers apply the techniques of direct seeding on plant cover, in which:

  • The soil is no longer ploughed;
  • Cover crops are planted;
  • Crops are alternated.

These techniques have the advantage of reducing erosion and promoting soil biological activity which benefit crops.

The Direct Seeding Group of Madagascar (GSDM) brought together 120 representatives of agriculture on 1 and 2 December 2010 to discuss arrangements for the dissemination of these techniques on a large scale - an unprecedented challenge.

Techniques from Brazil

These techniques were invented in the USA and tested in Brazil in the mid 80s. In the1990s, Madagascar began trials in the Antsirabe region. Reference sites were then introduced in different climatic regions of the island to compare direct seeding systems to traditional farming methods. National rural development projects were then built on these techniques. Today, 11 sites serve as ashowcase for the projects.

The TAFA, anon-Governmental Organization, was a pioneer in the development and training in these techniques in Madagascar, with financial support from the French Development Agency (AFD) and technical support from the Cirad, who had also intervened in Brazil. In 2001, teams from FOFIFA, the Cirad and the Universityof Antananarivo were brought together in a single research unit (Scrid) to investigate diseases, insects, entomopathogenic organisms, soil organic matter,etc. The Institute of Research & Development (IRD) examined, in turn, the issue of carbon sequestration in direct seeding systems.

Groups involved in the project

In 2000, the main actors in the field of conservation agriculture formed an association: the Groupement Semis Direct Madagascar, which coordinates and monitors the field activities, performs evaluations and trains farmers.

Conservation agriculture goals

Several issues emerged from the symposium on December 1 and 2:

  • To develop environmentally sustainable agricultural production that is profitable,particularly given Madagascar’s growing population;
  • To develop the potential of rainfed agriculture, especially upland rice, using direct seeing techniques;
  • To create an alternative to slash-and-burn agriculture: preserve forest areas, improve living conditions around protected areas and limit greenhouse gas emissions;
  • To protectsoil from erosion and nutrient loss;
  • To regenerate and enhance soil fertility in damaged areas;
  • To developtools for environmental protection
  • To participate in climate change and carbon sequestration monitoring and maintaining agrobiodiversity.

Difficulties facing wide-scale dissemination of the new technique

The symposium made several recommendations:

  • in coordination and policy, these include the"bringing together rural development and environmental protection".
  • in training, "the first targets are the farmers." Farm Schools will be improved. One goal is to enable Cooperatives and Producers’ Organizations to conduct training.
  • different forms of financial plans for the farmers remain to be studied (pre-financing, operating loans, grants, etc.), including funding for cover crop seeds and other inputs.
  • more effort must be made to explain the benefits of conservation agriculture.
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