Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa



Conservation agriculture (CA) was introduced to farmers in Malawi to address soil degradation, declining crop productivity and the need to adapt to climate variability and change. This research from 2005 to 2014 aimed at analysing the effects of CA on longer-term productivity and profitability compared with conventional systems as practiced in two communities of Central Malawi. CA treatments outyielded conventional ridge tilled control plots in Mwansambo and Zidyana on average by between 22 and 31%, respectively. An economic analysis from 2011 to 2014 found that, on average, income was 50 and 83% greater in CA systems than in conventional systems. The crops were produced with 28 -39 less labour days ha−1 compared with the conventional practice, leading to greater net benefits. Despite the higher returns with CA, there are still challenges with residue retention, weed control, adequate rotations, management of pests and diseases as well as other socio-economic constraints. At the same time, there are opportunities to address these challenges through site-specific and adaptive research using innovation systems approaches.

Corresponding author
Corresponding author. Email:
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

J. A. Andersson and S. D’Souza (2014). From adoption claims to understanding farmers and contexts: a literature review of conservation agriculture (CA) adoption among smallholder farmers in southern Africa. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 187:116132.

A. Arslan , N. McCarthy , L. Lipper , S. Asfaw and A. Cattaneo (2014). Adoption and intensity of adoption of conservation farming practices in Zambia. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 187:7286.

F. Baudron , P. Tittonell , M. Corbeels , P. Letourmy and K. E. Giller (2012b). Comparative performance of conservation agriculture and current smallholder farming practices in semi-arid Zimbabwe. Field Crops Research 132:117128.

A. Bolliger , J. Magid , T. J. C. Amado , F. Scora Neto , M. D. F. Dos Santos Ribeiro , A. Calegari , R. Ralisch and A. De Neergaard (2006). Taking stock of the Brazilian ‘zero-till revolution’: a review of landmark research an farmers’ practice. Advances in Agronomy 91:47110.

J. E. Cairns , J. Hellin , K. Sonder , J. L. Araus , J. F. MacRobert , C. Thierfelder and B. Prasanna (2013). Adapting maize production to climate change in sub-Saharan Africa. Food Security 5 (3):345360.

R. Derpsch , N. Sidiras and C. F. Roth (1986). Results of studies made from 1977–1984 to control erosion by cover crops and no-tillage techniques in Parana, Brazil. Soil and Tillage Research 8:253263.

F. Ellis , M. Kutengule and A. Nyasulu (2003). Livelihoods and rural poverty reduction in Malawi. World Development 31:14951510.

O. Erenstein (2002). Crop residue retention in tropical and semi-tropisal countries: an evaluation of residue availability and other technological implications. Soil and Tillage Research 67:115133.

O. Erenstein (2009). Specification effects in zero tillage survey data in South Asia's rice-wheat systems. Field Crops Research 111 (1–2):166172.

O. Erenstein and V. Laxmi (2008). Zero tillage impacts in India's rice-wheat systems: a review. Soil and Tillage Research 100 (1–2):114.

O. Erenstein , K. Sayre , P. Wall , J. Hellin and J. Dixon (2012). Conservation agriculture in maize- and wheat-based systems in the (Sub)tropics: lessons from adaptation initiatives in South Asia, Mexico, and Southern Africa. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture 36 (2):180206.

D. Garrity , F. Akinnifesi , O. Ajayi , G. W. Sileshi , J. G. Mowo , A. Kalinganire , M. Larwanou and J. Bayala (2010). Evergreen agriculture: a robust approach to sustainable food security in Africa. Food Security 2 (3):197214.

K. E. Giller , M. Corbeels , J. Nyamangara , B. Triomphe , F. Affholder , E. Scopel and P. Tittonell (2011). A research agenda to explore the role of conservation agriculture in African smallholder farming systems. Field Crops Research 124:468472.

K. E. Giller , E. Witter , M. Corbeels and P. Tittonell (2009). Conservation agriculture and smallholder farming in Africa: the heretic's view. Field Crops Research 114:2334.

B. Govaerts , M. Mezzalama , K. D. Sayre , J. Crossa , J. M. Nicol and J. Deckers (2006). Long-term consequences of tillage, residue management, and crop rotation on maize/wheat root rot and nematode populations in subtropical highlands. Applied Soil Ecology 32:305315.

B. Govaerts , K. Sayre , K. Lichter , L. Dendooven and J. Deckers (2007). Influence of permanent raised bed planting and residue management on physical and chemical soil quality in rain fed maize/wheat systems. Plant and Soil 291 (1):3954.

B. Govaerts , K. D. Sayre and J. Deckers (2005). Stable high yields with zero tillage and permanent bed planting? Field Crops Research 94 (1):3342.

B. Govaerts , N. Verhulst , A. Castellanos-Navarrete , K. D. Sayre , J. Dixon and L. Dendooven (2009). Conservation agriculture and soil carbon sequestration: between myth and farmer reality. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences 28:97122.

P. P. Grabowski and J. M. Kerr (2014). Resource constraints and partial adoption of conservation agriculture by hand-hoe farmers in Mozambique. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 12 (1):3753.

M. Ito , T. Matsumoto and M. A. Quinones (2007). Conservation tillage practices in sub-Saharan Africa: the experience of Sassaka Global 2000. Crop Protection 26:417423.

M. Jat , M. Gathala , J. Ladha , Y. Saharawat , A. Jat , V. Kumar , S. Sharma , V. Kumar and R. Gupta (2009). Evaluation of precision land leveling and double zero-till systems in the rice–wheat rotation: water use, productivity, profitability and soil physical properties. Soil and Tillage Research 105 (1):112121.

C. Johansen , M. Haque , R. Bell , C. Thierfelder and R. Esdaile (2012). Conservation agriculture for small holder rainfed farming: opportunities and constraints of new mechanized seeding systems. Field Crops Research 132:1832.

A. Kassam , T. Friedrich , F. Shaxson and J. Pretty (2009). The spread of conservation agriculture: justification, sustainability and uptake. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 7 (4):292320.

R. Lal (1974a). No-tillage effects on soil properties and maize (Zea mays L.) production in Western Nigeria. Plant and Soil 40 (2):321331.

R. Lal (1974b). Soil temperature, soil moisture and maize yield from mulched and unmulched tropical soils. Plant and Soil 40 (1):129143.

K. Mazvimavi and S. Twomlow (2009). Socioeconomic and institutional factors influencing adoption of conservation agriculture by vulnerable households in Zimbabwe. Agricultural Systems 101:2029.

B. Mhlanga , S. Cheesman , B. Maasdorp , T. Muoni , S. Mabasa , E. Mangosho and C. Thierfelder (2015). Weed community responses to rotations with cover crops in maize-based conservation agriculture systems of Zimbabwe. Crop Protection 69:18.

T. Muoni , L. Rusinamhodzi , J. T. Rugare , S. Mabasa , E. Mangosho , W. Mupangwa and C. Thierfelder (2014). Effect of herbicide application on weed flora under conservation agriculture in Zimbabwe. Crop Protection 66:17.

T. Muoni , L. Rusinamhodzi and C. Thierfelder (2013). Weed control in conservation agriculture systems of Zimbabwe: identifying economical best strategies. Crop Protection 53:2328.

W. Mupangwa and C. Thierfelder (2014). Intensification of conservation agriculture systems for increased livestock feed and maize production in Zimbabwe. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 12 (4):425439.

W. Mupangwa , S. Twomlow and S. Walker (2012). Reduced tillage, mulching and rotational effects on maize (Zea mays L.), cowpea (Vigna unguiculata (Walp) L.) and sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L. (Moench)) yields under semi-arid conditions. Field Crops Research 132 (0):139148.

F. M. Myaka , W. D. Sakala , J. J. Adu-Gyamfi , D. Kamalongo , A. Ngwira , R. Odgaard , N. E. Nielsen and H. Høgh-Jensen (2006). Yields and accumulations of N and P in farmer-managed intercrops of maize-pigeonpea in semi-arid Africa. Plant and Soil 285 (1–2):207220.

A. R. Ngwira , J. B. Aune and S. Mkwinda (2012). On-farm evaluation of yield and economic benefit of short term maize legume intercropping systems under conservation agriculture in Malawi. Field Crops Research 132:149157.

J. Nyamangara , A. Marondedze , E. Masvaya , T. Mawodza , R. Nyawasha , K. Nyengerai , R. Tirivavi , P. Nyamugafata and M. Wuta (2014a). Influence of basin-based conservation agriculture on selected soil quality parameters under smallholder farming in Zimbabwe. Soil Use and Management 30 (4):550559.

J. Nyamangara , N. Mashingaidze , E. N. Masvaya , K. Nyengerai , M. Kunzekweguta , R. Tirivavi and K. Mazvimavi (2014b). Weed growth and labor demand under hand-hoe based reduced tillage in smallholder farmers’ fields in Zimbabwe. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 187:146154.

J. Nyamangara , E. N. Masvaya , R. Tirivavi and K. Nyengerai (2013). Effect of hand-hoe based conservation agriculture on soil fertility and maize yield in selected smallholder areas in Zimbabwe. Soil and Tillage Research 126:1925.

M. Z. Owenya , W. L. Mariki , J. Kienzle , T. Friedrich and A. Kassam (2011). Conservation agriculture (CA) in Tanzania: the case of the Mwangaza B CA farmer field school (FFS), Rhotia Village, Karatu District, Arusha. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 9 (1):145152.

T. W. Patzek (2008). Thermodynamics of Agricultural Sustainability: the case of US Maize Agriculture. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences 27 (4):272293.

L. Rusinamhodzi , M. Corbeels , M. van Wijk , M. Rufino , J. Nyamangara and K. Giller (2011). A meta-analysis of long-term effects of conservation agriculture on maize grain yield under rain-fed conditions. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 31 (4):657673.

R. W. Rycroft and D. E. Kash (1994). Complex technology and community: implications for policy and social sciences. Research Policy 23 (6):613626.

G. Sileshi , F. K. Akinnisfesi , O. C. Ajayi and F. Place (2008). Meta-analysis of maize yield response to woody and herbaceous legumes in sub-Saharan Africa. Plant and Soil 307 (1–2):119.

B. G. Sims , C. Thierfelder , J. Kienzle , T. Friedrich and A. Kassam (2012). Development of the conservation agriculture equipment industry in sub-Saharan Africa. Applied Engineering in Agriculture 28 (6):813823.

C. Thierfelder , J. L. Chisui , M. Gama , S. Cheesman , Z. D. Jere , W. T. Bunderson , N. S. Eash , A. Ngwira and L. Rusinamhodzi (2013). Maize-based conservation agriculture systems in Malawi: Long-term trends in productivity. Field Crop Research 142:4757.

C. Thierfelder , R. Matemba-Mutasa and L. Rusinamhodzi (2015a). Yield response of maize (Zea mays L.) to conservation agriculture cropping system in Southern Africa. Soil and Tillage Research 146:230242.

C. Thierfelder and P. C. Wall (2009). Effects of conservation agriculture techniques on infiltration and soil water content in Zambia and Zimbabwe. Soil and Tillage Research 105 (2):217227.

C. Thierfelder and P. C. Wall (2010a). Investigating Conservation Agriculture (CA) Systems in Zambia and Zimbabwe to Mitigate Future Effects of Climate Change. Journal of Crop Improvement 24 (2):113121.

C. Thierfelder and P. C. Wall (2011). Reducing the risk of crop failure for smallholder farmers in Africa through the adoption of conservation agriculture. In Innovations as Key to the Green Revolution in Africa, 12691277 (Eds A. Bationo , B. Waswa , J. M. M. Okeyo , F. Maina and J. M. Kihara ). Netherlands: Springer.

C. Thierfelder and P. C. Wall (2012). Effects of conservation agriculture on soil quality and productivity in contrasting agro-ecological environments of Zimbabwe. Soil Use and Management 28 (2):209220.

B. B. Umar , J. B. Aune , F. H. Johnsen and I. O. Lungu (2012). Are smallholder zambian farmers economists? A dual-analysis of farmers’ expenditure in conservation and conventional agriculture systems. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture 36 (8):908929.

D. Valbuena , O. Erenstein , S. Homann-Kee Tui , T. Abdoulaye , L. Claessens , A. J. Duncan , B. Gérard , M. C. Rufino , N. Teufel , A. van Rooyen and M. T. van Wijk (2012). Conservation Agriculture in mixed crop–livestock systems: scoping crop residue trade-offs in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Field Crops Research 132:175184.

H. Vogel (1994). Weeds in single-crop conservation farming in Zimbabwe. Soil and Tillage Research 31:169185.

P. C. Wall (2007). Tailoring conservation agriculture to the needs of small farmers in developing countries: an analysis of issues. Journal of Crop Improvement 19 (1/2):137155.

F. Zhang and L. Li (2003). Using competitive and facilitative interactions in intercropping systems enhances crop productivity and nutrient-use efficiency. Plant and Soil 248:305312.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Experimental Agriculture
  • ISSN: 0014-4797
  • EISSN: 1469-4441
  • URL: /core/journals/experimental-agriculture
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 3
Total number of PDF views: 71 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 178 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.