Skip to main content Accessibility help


  • A. R. NGWIRA (a1), C. THIERFELDER (a2), N. EASH (a3) and D. M. LAMBERT (a4)

Agricultural production in southern Africa is constrained by numerous factors, including low soil fertility, frequent droughts and flooding, limited access to fertilizers and the use of unsustainable management techniques that increase soil erosion rates. Conservation agriculture (CA) is based on the principles of minimum soil disturbance, crop residue retention and crop rotations. CA systems have been proposed to alleviate the negative externalities associated with conventional crop management systems. This study was conducted to examine the riskiness of economic returns of CA technologies based on maize grain yield evaluated in 12 target communities in Malawi from 2005–2011. On average, maize grain yields on both CA treatments exceeded the conventional control treatment by 22.1–23.6%, with differences more distinct in low altitude areas with low rainfall and frequent seasonal dry spells. Stochastic dominance analysis suggest that CA technologies would be preferred by risk-averse farmers, with corresponding differences in risk premiums (compared to conventional maize production systems) ranging between US$40 and US$105. However, these rankings are sensitive to the agroecological zones where the experiments were conducted. The risk premiums associated with the CA technologies in low elevation regions are unambiguous. Risk-averse farmers in higher elevations may need substantial incentives to adopt some CA technologies.

Corresponding author
Corresponding author. Email:
Hide All
Anderson, J. (1974). Risk efficiency in the interpretation of agricultural production research. Review of Marketing and Agricultural Economics 42:131184.
Anderson, J. R. and Dillon, J. L. (1990). The Analysis of Response in Crop and Livestock Production. New York: Pergamon Press.
Baerenklau, K. A. (2005). Toward an understanding of technology adoption: risk, learning, and neighborhood effects. Land Economics 81 (1):119.
Bekele, W. (2005). Stochastic dominance analysis of soil and water conservation in subsistence crop production in the eastern Ethiopian highlands: the case of the Hunde-Lafto area. Environmental & Resource Economics 32 (4):533550.
Brown, P. and Young, A. (1966). The Physical Environment of Central Malawi: With Special Reference to Soils and Agriculture. Zomba, Malawi: Government Press.
Cavatassi, R., Lipper, L. and Narloch, U. (2011). Modern variety adoption and risk management in drought prone areas: insights from the sorghum farmers of eastern Ethiopia. Agricultural Economics 42 (3):279292.
Doran, J. W., Elliott, E. T. and Paustian, K. (1998). Soil microbial activity, nitrogen cycling, and long-term changes in organic carbon pools as related to fallow tillage management. Soil & Tillage Research 49 (1–2):318.
Ellis, F., Kutengule, M. and Nyasulu, A. (2003). Livelihoods and rural poverty reduction in Malawi. World Development 31 (9):14951510.
FAO. (2002). Conservation Agriculture: Case Studies in Latin America and Africa. FAO Soils Bulletin Nos. 77, 78. Rome, Italy: FAO.
FAOSTAT. (2010).; last accessed 20 July 2010.
Giller, K. E., Witter, E., Corbeels, M. and Tittonell, P. (2009). Conservation agriculture and smallholder farming in Africa: the heretics’ view. Field Crops Research 114 (1):2334.
Gowing, J. W. and Palmer, M. (2008). Sustainable agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa: the case for a paradigm shift in land husbandry. Soil Use and Management 24:9299.
Guto, S. N., Pypers, P., Vanlauwe, B., de Ridder, N. and Giller, K. E. (2011). Tillage and vegetative barrier effects on soil conservation and short-term economic benefits in the Central Kenya highlands. Field Crops Research 122 (2):8594.
Ito, M., Matsumoto, T. and Quinones, M. A. (2007). Conservation tillage practice in sub-Saharan Africa: the experience of Sasakawa Global 2000. Crop Protection 26:417423.
Kassam, A., Friedrich, T., Shaxson, F. and Pretty, J. (2009). The spread of conservation agriculture: justification, sustainability and uptake. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 7 (4):292320.
Kumwenda, J. D. T., Waddington, S. R., Snapp, S. S., Jones, R. B. and Blackie, M. J. (1997). Soil fertility management in Southern Africa. In Africa's Emerging Maize Revolution, 157172 (Eds Byerlee, D. and Eicher, C. K.). Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.
Lal, R. (1986). Soil surface management in the tropics for intensive land use and high and sustained production. Advances in Soil Sciences 5:1109.
Lal, R. (2009). The plow and agricultural sustainability. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture 33 (1):6684.
Lambert, D. M. and Lowenberg-DeBoer, J. (2003). Economic analysis of row spacing for corn and soybean. Agronomy Journal 95:564573.
Mando, A., Brussaard, L. and Stroosnijder, L. (1999). Termite- and mulch-mediated rehabilitation of vegetation on crusted soil in West Africa. Restoration Ecology 7 (1):3341.
Mas-Colell, A., Whinston, M. D. and Green, J. R. (1995). Microeconomic Theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Mazvimavi, K. and Twomlow, S. (2009). Socioeconomic and institutional factors influencing adoption of conservation farming by vulnerable households in Zimbabwe. Agricultural Systems 101 (1–2):2029.
Mazvimavi, K., Twomlow, S. J., Belder, P. and Howe, L. (2008). An assessment of the sustainable uptake of conservation farming in Zimbabwe. Global Theme on Agroecosystems Report, Vol. 39, 66 pp. Bulawayo, Zimbabwe: International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.
McGarry, D., Bridge, B. J. and Radford, B. J. (2000). Contrasting soil physical properties after zero and traditional tillage of an alluvial soil in the semi-arid subtropics. Soil and Tillage Research 53 (2):105115.
Meyer, J. (1977). Choice among distributions. Journal of Economic Theory 14:326336.
MoAFS. (2011). Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security Crop Production Estimates (MoAFS). Lilongwe, Malawi: MoAFS.
Moschini, G. and Hennessy, D. A. (2001). Uncertainty, risk aversion, and risk management for agricultural producers. In Handbook of Agricultural Economics, 88153 (Eds Gardner, B. L. and Rausser, G. C.). New York: Elsevier.
Moser, C. M. and Barrett, C. B. (2006). The complex dynamics of smallholder technology adoption: the case of SRI in Madagascar. Agricultural Economics 35 (3):373388.
Ngwira, A. R., Aune, J. B. and Mkwinda, S. (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.
NSO. (2012). Integrated Household Survey 2010–2011 – Household Socioeconomic Characteristics Report. Zomba, Malawi: NSO.
Parr, J. E., Stewart, B. A., Hornick, S. B. and Singh, R. P. (1990). Improving the sustainability of dryland farming systems: a global perspective. In Dryland Agriculture Strategies for Sustainability, Vol. 13, 18 (Eds Singh, R. P., Parr, J. F. and Stewart, B. A.). New York: Springer-Verlag New York Inc.
Richardson, J. W. (2002). SIMETAR, Simulation Software for Applied Risk Management. College Station, TX: Department of Agricultural Economics, Texas A&M University.
Richardson, J. W. and Mapp, H. P. (1976). Use of probabilistic cash flows in analyzing investment under conditions of risk and uncertainty. Journal of Agricultural Economics 8 (2):1924.
Richardson, J. W., Schumann, K. D. and Feldman, P. A. (2006). Simetar© Simulation for Applied Risk Management. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University.
Rockström, J., Barron, J. and Fox, P. (2002). Rainwater management for increased productivity among smallholder farmers in drought prone environments. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 27 (11–22):949959.
Rockström, J., Kaumbutho, P., Mwalley, J., Nzabi, A. W., Temesgen, M., Mawenya, L., Barron, J., Mutua, J. and Damgaard-Larsen, S. (2009). Conservation farming strategies in East and Southern Africa: yields and rain water productivity from on-farm action research. Soil and Tillage Research 103 (1):2332.
Roth, C. H., Meyer, B., Frede, H. G. and Derpsch, R. (1988). Effect of mulch rates and tillage systems on infiltrability and other soil physical properties of an Oxisol in Paraná, Brazil. Soil and Tillage Research 11 (1):8191.
Rusinamhodzi, L., Corbeels, M., Wijk, M., Rufino, M., Nyamangara, J. and Giller, K. (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.
Serra, T. (2008). Differential uncertianities and risk attitude between conventional and organic producers: the case of Spanish COP farmers. Paper Presented at American Agricultural Economics Association Annual Meeting, July 29–August 1, 2007, Portland, OR.
Shively, G. E. (2001). Poverty, consumption risk, and soil conservation. Journal of Development Economics 65 (2):267290.
Silici, L. (2010). Conservation Agriculture and Sustainable Crop Intensification in Lesotho, Integrated Crop Management Series, Vol. 10. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Smale, M., Kaunda, Z. H. W., Makina, H. L., Mkandawire, M. M. M. K., Msowoya, M. N. S., Mwale, D. J. E. K. and Heisey, P. W. (1991). Chimanga cha makolo, hybrid and composites: an snalysis of farmer's adoption of technology of maize technology in Malawi, 1989–91. CIMMYT Economic Working Paper 91/04, Mexico, DF.
Thierfelder, C., Chisui, J. L., Gama, M., Cheesman, S., Jere, Z. D., Trent Bunderson, W., Eash, N. S. and Rusinamhodzi, L. (2013). Maize-based conservation agriculture systems in Malawi: long-term trends in productivity. Field Crops Research 142 (0):4757.
Thierfelder, C. and Wall, P. C. (2009). Effects of conservation agriculture techniques on infiltration and soil water content in Zambia and Zimbabwe. Soil and Tillage Research 105 (2):217227.
Thierfelder, C. and Wall, P. C. (2010). Rotation in conservation agriculture systems in Zambia: effects on soil quality and water relations. Experimental Agriculture 46 (3):309325.
Verhulst, N., Nelissen, V., Jespers, N., Haven, H., Sayre, K. D., Raes, D., Deckers, J. and Govaerts, B. (2011). Soil water content, maize yield and its stability as affected by tillage and crop residue management in rainfed semi-arid highlands. Plant and Soil 344 (1–2):7385.
Vogel, H. (1993). An evaluation of five tillage systems for smallholder agriculture in Zimbabwe. Der Tropenlandwirt 94:2136.
Wall, P. (2007). Tailoring conservation agriculture to the needs of small farmers in developing countries: an analysis of issues. Journal of Crop Improvement 19:137155.
Wendland, K. J. and Sills, E. O. (2008). Dissemination of food crops with nutritional benefits: adoption and disadoption of soybeans in Togo and Benin. Natural Resources Forum 32 (1):3952.
WRB. (1998).World Reference Base for Soil Resources, Vol. 88. Rome, Italy: FAO-ISRIC.
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: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed