Skip to main content

Conservation agriculture and drought-tolerant germplasm: Reaping the benefits of climate-smart agriculture technologies in central Mozambique

  • Christian Thierfelder (a1), Leonard Rusinamhodzi (a2), Peter Setimela (a1), Forbes Walker (a3) and Neal S. Eash (a2)...

Conservation agriculture (CA) based on minimum soil disturbance, crop residue retention and crop rotations is considered as a soil and crop management system that could potentially increase soil quality and mitigate the negative effects of climate variability. When CA is combined with drought-tolerant (DT) maize varieties, farmers can reap the benefits of both—genetic improvement and sustainable land management. New initiatives were started in 2007 in Mozambique to test the two climate-smart agriculture technologies on farmers' fields. Long-term trends showed that direct seeded manual CA treatments outyielded conventional tillage treatments in up to 89% of cases on maize and in 90% of cases on legume in direct yield comparisons. Improved DT maize varieties outyielded the traditional control variety by 26–46% (695–1422 kg ha−1) on different tillage treatment, across sites and season. However a direct interaction between tillage treatment and variety performance could not be established. Maize and legume grain yields on CA plots in this long-term dataset did not increase with increased years of practice due to on-site variability between farmer replicates. It was evident from the farmers' choice that, beside taste and good milling quality, farmers in drought-prone environments considered the potential of a variety to mature faster more important than larger potential yields of long season varieties. Population growth, labor shortage to clear new land areas and limited land resources in future will force farmers to change toward more permanent and sustainable cropping systems and CA is a viable option to improve their food security and livelihoods.

Corresponding author
* Corresponding author:
Hide All
Bänziger M., Setimela P.S., Hodson D., and Vivek B. 2006. Breeding for improved abiotic stress tolerance in maize adapted to southern Africa. Agricultural Water Management 80(1–3):212224.
Baudron F., Tittonell P., Corbeels M., Letourmy P., and Giller K.E. 2012. Comparative performance of conservation agriculture and current smallholder farming practices in semi-arid Zimbabwe. Field Crops Research 132:117128.
Blum A., and Sullivan C. 1986. The comparative drought resistance of landraces of sorghum and millet from dry and humid regions. Annals of Botany 57(6):835846.
Bolliger A. 2007. Is zero-till an appropriate agricultural alternative for disadvantaged smallholders of South Africa? A study of surrogate systems and strategies, smallholder sensitivities and soil glycoproteins. PhD thesis, University of Copenhagen 67 pp.
Cairns J.E., Sonder K., Zaidi P.H., Verhulst N., Mahuku G., Babu R., Nair S.K., Das B., Govaerts B., Vinayan M.T., Rashid Z., Noor J.J., Devi P., San Vicente F., and Prasanna B.M. 2012. Maize production in a changing climate: Impacts, adaptation, and mitigation strategies. Advances in Agronomy 114: 158.
Cairns J.E., Crossa J., Zaidi P., Grudloyma P., Sanchez C., Araus J.L., Thaitad S., Makumbi D., Magorokosho C., and Bänziger M. 2013 a. Identification of drought, heat, and combined drought and heat tolerant donors in maize. Crop Science 53(4):13351346.
Cairns J.E., Hellin J., Sonder K., Araus J.L., MacRobert J.F., Thierfelder C., and Prasanna B. 2013 b. Adapting maize production to climate change in sub-Saharan Africa. Food Security 5(3):345360.
Cavane E., and Donovan C. 2011. Determinants of adoption of improved maize varieties and chemical fertilizers in Mozambique. Journal of International Agricultural and Extension Education 18(3):521.
Challinor A., Wheeler T., Garforth C., Craufurd P., and Kassam A. 2007. Assessing the vulnerability of food crop systems in Africa to climate change. Climatic Change 83(3):381399.
Chivenge P.P., Murwira H.K., Giller K.E., Mapfumo P., and Six J. 2007. Long-term impact of reduced tillage and residue management on soil carbon stabilization: Implications for conservation agriculture on contrasting soils. Soil and Tillage Research 94(2):328337.
Corbeels M., Sakyi R.K., Kühne R.F., and Whitbread A. 2014. Meta-analysis of crop responses to conservation agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. CCAFS Report No. 12. CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), Copenhagen.
Dakora F.D., Aboyinga R.A., Mahama Y., and Apaseku J. 1987. Assessment of N2 fixation in groundnut (Arachis hypogaea L.) and cowpea (Vigna unguiculata L. Walp) and their relative N contribution to a succeeding maize crop in Northern Ghana. MIRCEN Journal of Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 3(4):389399.
Dowswell C.R., Paliwal R.L., and Cantrell R.P. 1996. Maize in the Third World. Westview Press, Boulder, CO.
DTMA. 2013. Drought-tolerant maize for Africa: released DT varieties Available at Web site CIMMYT, Mexico.
Findeling A., Ruy S., and Scopel E. 2003. Modelling the effects of a partial residue mulch on runoff using a physically based approach. Journal of Hydrology 275(1–2):4966.
Giller K.E., Witter E., Corbeels M., and Tittonell P. 2009. Conservation agriculture and smallholder farming in Africa: The heretic's view. Field Crops Research 114:2334.
Gwenzi W., Taru M., Mutema Z., Gotosa J., and Mushiri S. 2008. Tillage system and genotype effects on rainfed maize (Zea mays L.) productivity in semi-arid Zimbabwe. African Journal of Agricultural Research 3(2):101110.
Johnson J.M.F., Reicosky D.C., Allmaras R.R., Sauer T.J., Venterea R.T., and Dell C.J. 2005. Greenhouse gas contributions and mitigation potential of agriculture in the central USA. Soil and Tillage Research 83(1):7394.
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.
Kassie G., Erenstein O., Mwangi W., MacRobert J., Setimela P., and Shiferaw B. 2013. Political and economic features of the maize seed industry in southern Africa. Agrekon 52(2):104127.
Kassie G.T., Erenstein O., Mwangi W., La Rovere R., Setimela P., and Langyintuo A. 2012. Characterization of maize production in southern Africa: Synthesis of CIMMYT/ DTMA household level farming system surveys in Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. CIMMYT, Mexico, Socio-Economics Program Working Paper 4.
Langyintuo A.S., Diallo W., MacRobert A., Dixon J.J., and Banziger M. 2008. An analysis of the bottlenecks affecting the production and deployment of maize seed in eastern and southern Africa: CIMMYT.
Lobell D.B., and Burke M.B. 2008. Why are agricultural impacts of climate change so uncertain? The importance of temperature relative to precipitation. Environmental Research Letters 3(3): 034007.
Lobell D.B., Burke M.B., Tebaldi C., Mastrandrea M.D., Falcon W.P., and Naylor R.L. 2008. Prioritizing climate change adaptation needs for food security in 2030. Science 319:607610.
Magorokosho C., Vivek B., and MacRobert J. 2009. Characterization of maize germplasm grown in Eastern and Southern Africa: results of the 2008 regional trials coordinated by CIMMYT. CIMMYT, Harare, Zimbabwe.
Mapfumo P., Adjei-Nsiah S., Mtambanengwe F., Chikowo R., and Giller K.E. 2013. Participatory action research (PAR) as an entry point for supporting climate change adaptation by smallholder farmers in Africa. Environmental Development 5:622.
Muchow R. 1989. Comparative productivity of maize, sorghum and pearl millet in a semi-arid tropical environment II. Effect of water deficits. Field Crops Research 20(3):207219.
Mupangwa W., Twomlow S., and Walker S. 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.
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 132:149–57.
Ngwira A.R., Thierfelder C., and Lambert D.M. 2013. Conservation agriculture systems for Malawian smallholder farmers: long-term effects on crop productivity, profitability and soil quality. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 28(04):350363.
Nyamangara J., Masvaya E.N., Tirivavi R., and Nyengerai K. 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.
Nyamangara J., Marondedze A., Masvaya E., Mawodza T., Nyawasha R., Nyengerai K., Tirivavi R., Nyamugafata P. and Wuta M. 2014. Influence of basin-based conservation agriculture on selected soil quality parameters under smallholder farming in Zimbabwe. Soil Use and Management 30(4):550559.
O'Dell D., Sauer T.J., Hicks B.B., Thierfelder C., Lambert D.M., Logan J. and Eash N.S. 2015. A short-term assessment of carbon dioxide fluxes under contrasting agricultural and soil management practices in Zimbabwe. Journal of Agriculture Science 7(3):3248.
Pittelkow C.M., Liang X., Linquist B.A., Van Groenigen K.J., Lee J., Lundy M.E., van Gestel N., Six J., Venterea R.T., and van Kessel C. 2015. Productivity limits and potentials of the principles of conservation agriculture. Nature 517(7534):365368.
Powlson D.S., Stirling C.M., Jat M., Gerard B.G., Palm C.A., Sanchez P.A., and Cassman K.G. 2014. Limited potential of no-till agriculture for climate change mitigation. Nature Climate Change 4(8):678683.
Rao M., and Mathuva M. 2000. Legumes for improving maize yields and income in semi-arid Kenya. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 78(2):123137.
Reicosky D.C. 2000. Tillage induced CO 2 emissions from soil. Nutrient Cycling in Agro-ecosystems 49:273285.
Reicosky D.C., and Lindstrom M.J. 1993. Fall tillage method: effect on short-term carbon dioxide flux from soil. Agronomy Journal 85(6):12371243.
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.
Rohrbach D. 2003 (editor). Improving the commercial viability of sorghum and pearl millet in Africa. Workshop on the proteins of sorghum and millets: Enhancing nutritional and functional properties for Africa.
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 Parafla, Brazil. Soil and Tillage Research 11:8191.
Rusinamhodzi L., Corbeels M., Nyamangara J., and Giller K.E. 2012. Maize–grain legume intercropping is an attractive option for ecological intensification that reduces climatic risk for smallholder farmers in central Mozambique. Field Crops Research 136:1222.
Scopel E., Findeling A., Chavez Guerra E., and Corbeels M. 2005. Impact of direct sowing mulch-based cropping systems on soil carbon, soil erosion and maize yield. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 25:425432.
Setimela P., MacRobert J., Atlin G., Magorokosho C., Tarekegne A., Makumbi D., and Taye G. 2012. editor Performance of elite maize varieties tested on-farm trials in eastern and southern Africa. ASA, CSSA, and SSSA International Annual Meetings 21–24 October, 2012; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.
Tadross M., Suarez P., Lotsch A., Hachigonta S., Mdoka M., Unganai L., Lucio F., Kamdonyo D., and Muchinda M. 2009. Growing-season rainfall and scenarios of future change in southeast Africa: Implications for cultivating maize. Climate Research 40(2–3):147161.
Tarawali S.A., Singh B.B., Gupta S.C., Tabo R., Harris F., Nokoe F., Fernandez-Rivera S., Bationo A., Manyong V.M., Makinde K., and Odion B. 2002. Cowpea as a key factor for a new approach to integrated crop-livestock systems research in the dry savannas of West Africa. In: Fatokun C.A., Tartawali S.A., Singh B.B., Kormawa P.M., and Tamo M. (Eds.), Challenges and opportunities for enhancing sustainable cowpea production. IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria, pp. 233251.
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. Investigating conservation agriculture (CA) systems in Zambia and Zimbabwe to mitigate future effects of climate change. Journal of Crop Improvement 24(2):113121.
Thierfelder C., and Wall P.C. 2012. Effects of conservation agriculture on soil quality and productivity in contrasting agro-ecological environments of Zimbabwe. Soil Use and Management 28(2):209220.
Thierfelder C., Cheesman S., and Rusinamhodzi L. 2012. A comparative analysis of conservation agriculture systems: benefits and challenges of rotations and intercropping in Zimbabwe. Field Crops Research 137:237250.
Thierfelder C., Chisui J.L., Gama M., Cheesman S., Jere Z.D., Bunderson W.T., Eash N.S., Ngwira A., and Rusinamhodzi L. 2013 a. Maize-based conservation agriculture systems in Malawi: Long-term trends in productivity. Field Crop Research 142:4757.
Thierfelder C., Mwila M., and Rusinamhodzi L. 2013 b. Conservation agriculture in eastern and southern provinces of Zambia: Long-term effects on soil quality and maize productivity. Soil and Tillage Research 126:246258.
Thierfelder C., Rusinamhodzi L., Ngwira A.R., Mupangwa W., Nyagumbo I., Kassie G.T. and Cairns J.E. 2014. Conservation agriculture in Southern Africa: Advances in knowledge. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, online first, 121, doi: 10.1017/S1742170513000550.
Thierfelder C., Matemba-Mutasa R., and Rusinamhodzi L. 2015. Yield response of maize (Zea mays L.) to conservation agriculture cropping system in southern Africa. Soil and Tillage Research 146:230242.
Thornton P.K., Jones P.G., Ericksen P.J., and Challinor A.J. 2011. Agriculture and food systems in sub-Saharan Africa in a 4°C+ world. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 369(1934):117136.
Recommend this journal

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

Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems
  • ISSN: 1742-1705
  • EISSN: 1742-1713
  • URL: /core/journals/renewable-agriculture-and-food-systems
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: 5
Total number of PDF views: 110 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 767 *
Loading metrics...

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