December 2009

The spread of Conservation Agriculture: Justification, sustainability and uptake

Amir Kassam, Theodor Friedrich, Francis Shaxson and Jules Pretty

Conservation Agriculture (CA) has been practised for three decades and has spread widely.We estimate that there arenow some 106 million ha of arable and permanent crops grown without tillage in CA systems, corresponding to an annual rate of increase globally since 1990 of 5.3 million ha. Wherever CA has been adopted it appears to have had both agricultural and environmental benefits. Yet CA represents a fundamental change in production system thinking. It has counterintuitive and often unrecognized elements that promote soil health, productive capacity and ecosystem services. The practice of CA thus requires a deeper understanding of its ecological underpinnings in order to manage its various elements for sustainable intensification, where the aim is to optimize resource use and protect or enhance ecosystem processes in space and time over the long term. For these reasons CA is knowledge-intensive. CA constitutes principles and practices that can make a major contribution to sustainable production intensification. This, the first of two papers, presents the justification for CA as a system capable of building sustainability into agricultural production systems. It discusses some of CA’s major achievable benefits, and presents an overview of the uptake of CA
worldwide to 2009. The related paper elaborates the necessary conditions for the spread of CA.

Full article

Read today on Timesonline

For years cows were the most important thing in John Nyirenda’s life. In Malawi, as in much of rural Africa, a man’s worth is calculated by the number of cows and other livestock he owns.

Until recently Mr Nyirenda, who has nine children, was the proud owner of two cows, several sheep and goats and a flock of chickens that still peck away in the dirt outside his modest brick and corrugated iron roofed home in this tiny village in northern Malawi.

“We sold milk and other diary products and with that money I brought up my entire family,” the 63-year-old farmer told The Times. “When I saved enough money to buy the second cow I felt very proud, I was looking so successful.” Less than a year ago Mr Nyirenda’s life was revolutionised by a small solar panel not much bigger than a paperback novel. If it was left in the daylight for five hours or so it would provide enough power through two wires with crocodile clips at the end to light a small LED bulb, charge a mobile phone or two rechargeable batteries that came with the pack….

Read the full story on TimesOnLine

Vacancy Number: PD/SLP/12/09

SLP/ILRI seeks to recruit a post-doctoral scientist to contribute to the SLP funded project ‘Optimizing livelihood and environmental benefits from crop residues in smallholder crop-livestock systems in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia”

The Systemwide Livestock Programme (SLP) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is a consortium of 12 international agricultural research centres and the organisations that collaborate with them. The SLP contributes to the CGIAR goals of alleviating poverty in the developing world and protecting natural resources in order to achieve sustainable food security by building and strengthening links between diverse CGIAR centres and programmes, their partners and other stakeholders to develop integrated research on livestock related issues.

The position:

SLP/ILRI seeks to recruit a post-doctoral scientist to contribute to the SLP funded project ‘Optimizing livelihood and environmental benefits from crop residues in smallholder crop-livestock systems in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia” jointly conducted by CIMMYT, CIP, ICRISAT, IITA, ILRI/IWMI, and Wageningen University. He/she will play a leading role in implementing trade-off and sustainability models in coordination with all the partners. In addition he/she will collect and organized relevant secondary bio-physical information for the study sites and will build regional capacity for modeling approaches.


ILRI principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Preferred Skills:

The successful candidate will have:

• PhD in Agricultural or Environmental Sciences, Biology, Ecology, Geo-information Science and/or Mathematic, obtained within the last 5 years;
• Strong capabilities in quantitative analysis, with expertise in state-of-the-art systems modeling;
• Capability to quickly adapt and learn/adopt new methods/approaches and tools;
• Good understanding of and interest for agricultural challenges in the developing world;
• Experience in GIS/Remote Sensing and spatial analysis would be an advantage;
• Excellent communication and interpersonal skills and the ability to perform in multidisciplinary and multicultural research environments;
• Be fluent in English with good writing skills;
• A willingness to travel frequently.

Terms of appointment:

The initial appointment will be for two years with the possibility of one renewal for one year, contingent upon individual performance and availability of funds. ILRI offers a competitive remuneration package paid in US dollars.


Applicants should send a cover letter expressing their interest, detailed CV, names and contact details (Telephone, E-mail) of three professional referees to the Human Resources Office, ILRI, P.O. Box 30709-00100, Nairobi Kenya; e-mail: by 31st January 2010 or until the position is filled. The title and reference number of the position for which the application is made should be clearly marked on the application. For more information on the position, contact

To find more about ILRI and SLP, visit our Websites at and

Big emitters: how growth in consumption drives climate change (IIED briefing, Dec 2009)

It seems obvious that the more people there are on the planet, the more the pressure on planetary resources and the larger the emissions of greenhouse gases. So it also seems obvious that population growth must be a major driver of global warming. But it is just as obvious that very poor households contribute very little to greenhouse gas emissions. So if most of the world’s population growth is among very poor households, population growth is not the culprit. The greatest human driver of global warming is the number of consumers on the planet and their consumption level. Individuals and households contribute to global warming by consuming goods and services that cause greenhouse gas emissions – for instance, by owning a refrigerator or a car. Through this they are responsible for all the fossil fuels that go into making, distributing, advertising, selling, using and disposing of it.

For the full brief, go to IIED webpage

Tahirou Abdoulaye, socio-économiste l’IITA, a expliqué durant sa participation à la réunion du Systemwide Livestock Programme d’Addis Ababa : “Une évolution claire dans la régions est le développement rapide des marchés et l’émergence des marchés pour les aliments du bétail, concernant principalement les résidus de culture… ces marchés procurent un bénéfice immédiat pour les agriculteurs. L’utilisation des résidus pour l’alimentation du bétails entre en compétition avec un bénéfice à plus long terme qui concerne la conservation de la productivité des sols. Les agriculteurs ont naturellement tendance a favoriser les bénéfices à court terme.”

Voir sa video:

Voir sa presentation :

Reflecting on the December 2009 SLP meeting in Addis Ababa, Andre Van Rooyen (ICRISAT) outlines why ICRISAT is interested in this project:

“Our interest in the SLP project is to understand the main drivers behind increased use of crop residues and at what point will farmers begin to buy and sell them.”

He sees the project playing an important role to hep ICRISAT in Southern Africa position itself to better serve farmer needs in the future.

View his video:

During the December 2009 SLP meeting in Addis Ababa, Mark van Wijk (WUR) and colleagues presented some modelling work that could help quantify the tradeoffs between uses of crop residues – either incorporated in the soil to maintain soil fertility or fed to cattle.

He emphasizes that the models help to quantify the consequences – ‘what if’ – of different decisions or strategies.

View his video:

See his presentation:

Reporting on his research project at the December 2009 SLP meeting in Addis Ababa, Tahirou Abdoulaye (IITA) explains:

“What is clearly coming out is the role of market where feed markets, crop residue markets, are emerging … and the immediate benefit is for farmers to give more of their crop residues to their livestock because the other gains, in terms of soil fertility, tend to be more long term oriented, and farmers tend to focus more on the short term gains.”

View his video:

See his presentation:

Speaking at the December 2009 SLP meeting in Addis Ababa, Tilahun Amede (ILRI/IWMI) argues that livestock, although both a major source of livelihoods and user of water, are overlooked in policy-making on water productivity.

This IWMI/ILRI research project in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe aims to understand the dynamics – and the strategies – that can improve water and livestock productivity, while minimizing land degradation.

He shares three lessons emerging: First, that we need to improve the integration of crop and livestock; second, we meed to move policies from sectoral to integrated ones; and third, we need to ensure that the many useful technologies that exist actually reach the farmers.

View his video:

See a related video by Katrien Descheemaeker.

See his presentation:

During the CGIAR Systemwide Livestock Programme Livestock Policy Group Meeting on 1 December 2009, ILRI’s Ranjitha Puskur and Alan Duncan shared some experiences from their work on fodder innovation.

Alan focused on the IFAD-funded ‘Fodder Adoption Project’ based at ILRI, outlining the approach followed in the project – trying to strike a balance between the technological and institutional angles. View his video.

Ranjitha shared some major lessons come out of the DFID-funded Fodder Innovation Project. Similar to the Fodder Adoption Project, it looks at fodder scarcity and how to address it, but from the perspectives of capacities, policies and institutions. View her video.

See their presentation:

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