Implications of conservation agriculture narratives on environmental conservation in Chibombo,Zambia
The focus of agricultural development in Africa and Zambia in particular is on transforming the agricultural system from conventional to conservation agriculture (CA). This study examined the linkages between conservation agriculture narratives and environmental conservation in terms of forest conservation; soil moisture; weeds and agro-biodiversity in Chibombo by using smallholder farmers‟ experiences. Data was obtained from three focus group discussions with farmers, eight in-depth interviews (five with farmers and three with key informants from the Conservation Farming Unit (CFU) and Forestry department) and direct observations on land use practices. Data was analysed by content and narrative analysis. Results show that CA is donor driven and supported by several actors. Further, the study shows that the overarching CA narrative claims that CA can address both livelihood and environmental needs better than conventional agriculture. The study also shows that CA and forestry conservation are linked by narratives of agro-forestry and sustainable agricultural intensification which focus on use of selected trees for soil fertility and others for food and on minimizing expansion of agricultural land respectively. Soil fertility improvement messages dominated those of forestry conservation in CA promotion. However, results suggest that the contribution of these narratives to environmental sustainability is limited partly because of farmers‟ negative attitudes towards agro-forestry mainly attributed to land tenure insecurity and length of time required to realise benefits and also because farmers have continued to expand agricultural land. The climate change and adaptation narrative linked CA to environmental conservation through better soil moisture management. While this narrative posits that CA is more resilient to extreme weather conditions than conventional agriculture, farmers only reported this for drought conditions. The CA narrative of labour saving related to weeding was dominant. It claims that herbicide use and crop residues lower weed pressure in CA. Famers supported this narrative but argued that some weeds were becoming resistant to herbicides. Furthermore, farmers reported herbicides as being expensive. Hence, they reverted to conventional weeding methods. The agro-biodiversity narrative of CA claims increased agro-biodiversity through annual crop rotation involving a cereal, cash crop and legume for increased food security, income and soil fertility. Results show that farmers practiced crop rotation though not annually and not on equally proportioned areas because of interruption by negative effects of herbicides and dominance of some crops such as maize and cotton. In conclusion, the link between CA and environmental conservation is mainly through the narratives of agro-forestry, agricultural intensification, climate change and adaptation, labour saving on weeding and agro-biodiversity. However, the variances between CA narratives and farmers‟ experiences suggest that CA‟s contribution towards environmental conservation will be limited. Therefore, instead of implementing CA on the basis of narratives, most of which are derived from experiences outside Zambia, there is need to align CA to local contexts rather than apply it universally at all times to all farmers in order to improve its performance.
- Natural Sciences