Conservation Agriculture (CA)

Conservation Agriculture (CA)

Importance of Conservation Agriculture

Soil degradation is one of many environmental problems caused by tillage and unsuitable agricultural practices. These practices are continuing unabated under maize-based crop-livestock systems in South Africa and poses a major threat to the sustainability of agriculture, food production and national security (Borrelli et al., 2017; Le Roux et al., 2008). Impacts can be severe, not only through soil erosion and fertility loss, but through a conspicuous number of off-site effects (e.g., sedimentation, siltation and eutrophication of water ways or enhanced flooding) and climate change.

As part of a growing body of scientists, practitioners and stakeholders, De Wit et al. (2015) supported the argument that these conventional (tillage-based) farming systems in South Africa are not sustainable, expressing the need for more sustainable agricultural production systems. These systems should focus on fostering synergies between agricultural production, conservation and enhancing rural livelihoods. As an alternative to conventional farming systems, Conservation Agriculture (CA) is gaining acceptance in many parts of the world (Kassam et al., 2015), as a proven sustainable and cost-effective production system.

CA refers to an agricultural management system based on the simultaneous application of three principles: minimum mechanical soil disturbance, an organic soil cover throughout the year and the use of crop and animal diversity, including crop rotations and associations, as well as livestock integration. These principles enhance natural biological processes above and below ground and involves interventions where soil tillage is reduced to an absolute minimum. The use of external inputs such as agrochemicals and mineral supplements are applied at an optimum level, at quantities and in a manner that does not interfere with or disrupt biological processes. However, CA leads to improved ecosystems’ functioning that helps to reduce the use of and dependency on external inputs.

CA constitutes a production system that is not only ecologically sustainable, but also economically feasible and socially acceptable (De Wit et al., 2015; Dumanski et al. 2006). CA is based on optimising yields and profits and not maximising yields per se whilst exploiting the soil and agro-ecosystem resources (Dumanski et al. 2006).

Although CA has been adopted as the preferred practice when producing crops in many countries, adoption of CA in South Africa has been relatively slow, especially in most of the summer rainfall areas, as well as among smallholders and new era farmers. This problem is compounded by several underlying factors including:

  • lack of awareness, knowledge and understanding of environmental problems,
  • lack of knowledge and understanding of the nature and function of natural resources (ecology), especially soils, and
  • ignorance of appropriate solutions to address these issues (e.g. CA principles and practices).

Sustainable governance of soil and wide scale implementation of CA at farm level has become a topic of fundamental importance. This topic and problem (challenge) is the prime focus of the CA FIP: How do we, as primary producers, develop and adapt regenerative conservation agriculture systems on our own farms? The CA FIP’s intention is to provide insight into and guidance on adaptive systems research in CA in South African maize production systems.

Vision, Mission and Strategic Objectives

The Vision of the CA FIP

The Vision of the CA Farmer Innovation Programme (CA FIP) is to provide the principles of and a broad implementation- and monitoring framework for The Maize Trust to support adaptive research on conservation agriculture with all South African grain producers.


The Mission of the CA FIP

The Mission of the CA FIP is to guide, coordinate and facilitate research, development and adaptation of appropriate CA systems for a range of diverse and unique situations in the whole grain production area of South Africa.


The key strategic objectives

The CA FIP identified the following key strategic objectives for the implementation of CA projects:

  1. Identify and select target regions and choosing research locations and participants
  2. Implement appropriate on-farm research trials
  3. Implement a monitoring and evaluation framework and process
  4. Create wider awareness and innovation capacity in the selected study areas and the broader grain production region on the practices and benefits of locally adapted CA systems.
  5. Support stakeholder facilitation, governance, capacity building, administration and reporting processes.


Expected Outcomes and Strategic Significance

Adoption of appropriate on-farm systems research approaches and CA will lead to the achievement of the following measurable outcomes:

  • Highly innovative and adaptive CA farmers
  • A CA FIP involving key stakeholders
  • A CA evaluation panel to assist in the identification and evaluation of new CA project proposals, as well as annual progress reports. Key resource persons and producers will be involved in this CA governance structure.
  • The restoration of soil health and soil ecosystem services.
  • A reversal in cost-pressure and declining gross margins of farming enterprises.
  • Competitive, stable yields with the use of less external synthetic production inputs.
  • A reversal of the negative effect of agriculture on greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.
  • A positive impact on climate change and weather patterns, water regimes, biodiversity and ecosystems services
  • Increased water infiltration that reduces runoff, soil erosion and sedimentation, and improve surface and groundwater levels and quality.
  • Increasing the resilience and sustainability of farmers.
  • An improvement in the resource use efficiency and competitiveness of farming practices.

Panel Members

The major stakeholder groups, their key institutions, and their value and extent in the CA FIP is summarised in the table below.


Stakeholder Group Key Institution(s) Value – Expected Roles and Functions Extent – Expected Resource Contributions
Producers Maluti study group, Mpumalanga Highveld CA network; Ottosdal no-till club; Smallholder communities, Grain SA, GFADA, SAGRA, Free State Agri; Mpum Agri; KZN No-till club; Active participation in on-farm experimentation, awareness, social learning; willingness and availability to learn, share and adapt; capacity and willingness to lead and facilitate project activities;

Monitoring and evaluation;



Provision of land, inputs, implements;

Time and expertise for experiments, leadership and facilitating project activities;

Time to share their experiences and data;

Time to organise and participate in awareness actions, e.g. talks at farmers’ day


Research and extension Asset Research, Independent scientists, ARC, PDA, DAFF, Universities (UFS, NWU, UN, UM, US, etc.); The Maize Trust; Winter Cereal Trust; TerraSim; Mahlathini Development Foundation; Blue North; Soil Health Solutions;


Involved in planning, design, experimentation, facilitation, awareness and PM&E; research managers; students and their mentoring; interns and funding; incentives; research platforms / study groups; Work Package implementers; Time, expertise, skills, mentoring, facilitation, presentations;


Coordination and management of funding;

Specialised instruments, models and facilities for measuring and analyses;

Students and interns


Government Dept. of Agriculture (National, provincial, district, municipal);



Involved in planning, design, experimentation, facilitation, awareness and PM&E; incentives; research platforms / study groups Time, expertise, skills, mentoring, facilitation, presentations;


Coordination and management of funding;

Specialised instruments / implements and facilities for measuring and analyses;

Students and interns


Agri-businesses Cooperatives (OVK, VKB, etc.); seed, fertiliser, agro-chemical companies; mechanisation companies


Participate in on-farm trials;


Provide specialist products, implements and expertise on specific themes and treatments;

Time and capacity

Private sector NGOs, businesses, public, communities, churches, etc.


Participate in key activities, e.g. group facilitation, awareness and incentives Time and capacity


The panel of experts to assist with the evaluation of proposals and reports as part of the implementation of the Conservation Agriculture (CA) Farmer Innovation Programme (FIP)

  1. Dr Hendrik Smith: CA Facilitator, The Maize Trust / ASSET Research
  2. Prof Kingsley Ayisi: Lecturer in Agroforestry, University of Limpopo
  3. Prof Cornelius Chiduza: University of Fort Hare, Agronomy, CA research
  4. Prof James Blignaut: Researcher and Director, ASSET Research
  5. Dr Sybrand Engelbrecht: CA researcher, independent
  6. Ms Brigid Letty: Principal Scientist at Institute of Natural Resources, KwaZulu-Natal
  7. Ms Erna Kruger: Founder and coordinator, Mahlathini Development Foundation, Promoting collaborative, pro-poor agricultural innovation, CA smallholders
  8. Dr Andre Nel: Senior researcher, agronomy and CA, independent
  9. Ms Mmakgabo Matlou: Senior researcher, soil science and CA, ARC-SCW
  10. Dr Johan Strauss: Senior researcher in CA, Western Cape Dept Agriculture
  11. Dr Charity Mapumulo: Senior researcher, soil science and CA, ARC-SCW
  12. Mr Bright Mashiyana: KwaZulu-Natal Dept Agriculture, CA and LandCare
  13. Mr Bright Mashiyana: KwaZulu-Natal Dept Agriculture, CA and LandCare
  14. Mr Harland Wood: Researcher, KwaZulu-Natal Dept Agriculture
  15. Ms Saskia van Oosterhout: Environment and Development professional, Cape Town, South Africa
  16. Dr Liesl Wiese: Researcher, soil science and CA, Independent
  17. Dr Corrie Swanepoel: Researcher, soil science and CA, ARC-SCW
  18. Mr Gerrie Trytsman: Researcher, cover crops, livestock and CA, ARC-API
  19. Mr Klaas Mampholo: Chairman, National CA Task Force, DARDLR
  20. Mr Francis Steyn: Provincial Landcare Coordinator, Western Cape Dept Agriculture
  21. Mr Richard Selemela: Limpopo Department of Agriculture, LandCare and CA
  22. Dr Danie Beukes: Specialist researcher, soil science and CA, Independent
  23. Dr Johan Habig: Researcher, soil microbiology and CA
  24. Dr Susan Koch: Researcher, soil microbiology and plant pathology
  25. Mr Willem Killian: Researcher, agronomy and CA, ARC-SGI
  26. Dr Annemie Erasmus: Researcher, entomology and CA
  27. Mr Owen Rhode: Researcher, soil microbiology and CA, ARC Field Crops
  28. Mr Willie Pretorius: Soil Health Solutions
  29. Dr Ronel Hendriks: Advanced Biological Marketing
  30. Dr Diedrich Visser: Senior Researcher (Nematology), ARC-VOPI
  31. Dr Jaap Knot: Independent CA researcher and producer, ASSET Research
  32. Dr Pieter Swanepoel: Senior Lecturer, Agronomy, University of Stellenbosch
  33. Me Lientjie Visser: Researcher, soil science and CA, ARC-SG
  34. Dr Zira Mavunganidze: Researcher, agronomy and CA, NWU (Potchefstroom)
  35. Dr Stephano Haarhoff: Researcher, soil science and CA, Yarra
  36. Prof Chris Dannhauser: Researcher, pasture science, independent
  37. Dr Jeanetta du Toit (ARC): Researcher, weed science, ARC-Field Crops
  38. Hestia Nienaber (ARC): Researcher, weed science, ARC-SG
  39. Dr Maryke Craven: Researcher, weed science, ARC-SG
  40. Cobus van Coller: Producer – Northern Free State
  41. Hannes Otto: Producer – North West
  42. Ryk Pretorius: Producer – Mpumalanga
  43. Izak Dreyer: Producer – Northern Free State
  44. Danie Slabbert: Producer – Eastern Free State

Publications and Reports

Reports are uploaded on an annual basis.