Conservation agriculture: A proven approach to extreme poverty

January 15, 2015


Making an ‘impact that lasts’ means tapping into the interests and motivations of those we seek to serve. In 2014, Just Hope made a significant investment to gain a better understanding of West African culture, needs and priorities, with a four-month assessment conducted in Sierra Leone. That investment affirmed for us that food security is at the heart of the needs expressed by the local people. Once basic needs such as food and water are met, people can see economic empowerment as the key to making an ‘impact that lasts’ in their communities.

In that assessment we were also reminded that agriculture is central to rural West African life, and it is the primary method through which people will be able to meet their needs. Just Hope’s challenge is to identify and invest in people who want to do their part, offer opportunities that are seen by local people as effective and practical, and utilize Just Hope resources in a responsible way and without creating dependency.

As a Just Hope team prepares to launch a pilot project in the West African nation of Togo, we’d like to provide an overview of a farming method that our team will be teaching to our contacts in Togo during our upcoming trip.  Conservation agriculture is an ecological approach to farming that results in better harvests, healthier soil and improved long-term land output, and adheres to these general principles:

  • No tilling or plowing. Weeds are clipped at ground level and heavily mulched to prevent regrowth. This practice assists with erosion control during the wet season, as it allows the soil to hold its overall structure. It also allows the weeds’ root structure to die and decompose underground, creating “root canals” for better aeration, water infiltration and holding capacity.
  • Mulch heavily. Constant mulching holds moisture in the soil during the dry season and inhibits weed growth. Mulch is created from weed trimmings and other natural resources freely available onsite.
  • No slash and burn. We hope to discourage slash and burn practices, which are often used by farmers in developing nations. Burning requires minimal labor and effectively clears land of all vegetation, but it creates more problems than it solves. Scorching a field strips the land of its covering from grass to trees, making it highly vulnerable to erosion.  It also reduces the ecology of soil to a point of toxicity through ash and the elimination of microbes that work constantly to turn plant matter into soil. Burning land wipes out biodiversity, which helps control numerous agriculture problems such as rising temperatures and pests.
  • Good time and resource management. Water management is a big issue with any agricultural endeavor, but in places where there are wet and dry seasons, fields must always be ready – ready for the first rain, ready for the last rain, ready for harvest, ready for planting. With conservation agriculture, there is no time or resource to waste. Farmers are encouraged to see all that is available to them naturally and use these resources efficiently and effectively. By being on time the farmer utilizes all rains for the season and sustainably uses the organic resources available for mulching (grasses, weeds, leaves, crop residues) and nutrient inputs (manures, compost).

Conservation agriculture creates economic opportunity because greater agricultural yields increase the chance of a surplus, which can be sold. It also relies on using more resources that can be procured freely from nature, such as mulch and natural fertilizer, which reduces costs and increases profits.

In the photo gallery above, you will see Just Hope Agricultural Technical Advisor David Reeves instructing Project Manager Peter Mueller on measuring a plot, cleaning and preserving cleared vegetation for use as mulch, measuring and maintaining proper row separation and other ways to make the most of the land while also keeping it healthy. With a materials list that consists of rope, bottle caps and hoes, there is strong applicability of these techniques in Togo and other impoverished West African countries.