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Reasons to Adopt and Spread Conservation Agriculture Globally: a new paradigm for sustainable production intensification

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  2016 ASABE Annual International Meeting  162510269.(doi:10.13031/aim.20162510269)
Authors:   Theodor Friedrich, Amir Kassam
Keywords:   Sustainable agriculture, sustainable intensification, agro ecology, zero tillage, Conservation Agriculture


The growing world population is demanding a significant increase in global food production and availability. While there are enough land and water resources to meet future food needs, they are increasingly degrading due to the conventional agriculture approach. At the same time, future production increases are not expected to come from area expansion but from yield and productivity increases. Yet, in many important agricultural production areas yield increases are reaching a ceiling. Additional associated challenges are environmental pollution from agriculture, increasing floods and droughts, and falling groundwater in important watersheds. Despite several decades of addressing an international agenda of sustainable development, the situation in general has not improved. Several factors are commonly addressed as causes for the problems, such as climate change, soil erosion, and overuse of agrochemicals. However, causes and consequences are often mixed up, hiding the root problem. The paper demonstrates, how and why mechanical soil tillage can be identified as such root problem, leading to loss of productivity potential, resulting in many of the above described problems and impeding an increase of global food production. Reasons are elaborated for the proposed spread of an agricultural production system, commonly known as Conservation Agriculture, based on no-tillage, a permanent soil mulch cover, and crop diversity in production as integral concepts. Global experiences with Conservation Agriculture are described as foundation for a Sustainable Intensification with a solution to produce sufficient food for coming generations while stopping the degradation of natural resources and reversing the degradation processes in already degraded agricultural landscapes.

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