ACT networks with research institutions and other stakeholders to implement the research agenda mainly in the areas of Conservation Agriculture equipments, cover crops, weed management, soil and water management, and Social economics of Conservation agriculture and policy issues.
ACT programmes on Research for Development are carried out in order to identify CA practices and technologies that can address both livelihood and environmental needs of the people and the natural resources. These practices and technologies can improve food security and livelihoods; enhance quality of life for women, and sustainable resource management and environmental services which are in line with the MDG-1 - to reduce hunger and poverty; MDG-3 - to support gender equity and women’s empowerment; and MDG-7 - to increase environmental protection. It is recognized within ACT that research can provide insight into socio-economic issues, local knowledge-sharing networks and participatory learning approaches, such as farmer field schools, for dealing with agro-ecological issues such as pests, weeds, soil and organic matter.
Scrupulous analysis of existing CA experiences in Africa reveals a number of challenges and knowledge gaps to be addressed by the research for development community. These challenges sometimes are put forward as some of the main reasons preventing CA adoption by smallholder farmers, and constitute major research questions being addressed by ACT.
Our Research Focus
Conservation Agriculture equipments
Majority of farmers in Africa operate at the subsistence farming level using traditional tillage practices, which severely limits their food security, livelihoods and sustainable use of natural resources. By adopting Conservation Agriculture farming practices these farmers could reduce their energy and cost inputs while at the same time increasing outputs in a sustainable manner and hence improving their livelihoods, in addition to reducing environmental degradation.
Related to this is their low purchasing power which severely limits industrial development and economic growth in the region, as subsistence farmers form the majority of the population represent a huge potential market for agricultural tools and equipment and industrial products in general. Furthermore, the majority of the agricultural tools and equipment available to farmers are characterised by low quality and relatively high cost due to the underdevelopment of the manufacturing and supply sub-sector, which in turn is due largely to low demand and resultant poor economies of scale in manufacturing. ACT and partners are engaged in research for affordable types and qualities CA equipment that would be profitable to farmers.
ACT collaborates with local and international partners in researching and testing conservation agriculture equipments and makes them accessible to farmers. Some of the partners are Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation and Rural Technology (CARMATEC) and Nandra Engineering in Tanzania; Ndume, Ekima and Femo Works engineering in Kenya; Fitarelli in Brazil; and Ministry of Agriculture (Mechanisation Division) in Kenya and Tanzania.
The benefits of cover crops are well documented: prevent soil erosion from wind and water, build soil organic matter (grass cover crop), improve water quality, suppress weeds, resurface plant nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus); provide wildlife habitat; and provide nitrogen to following cash crop (legume cover crop). Cover crops also sequester additional atmospheric C and N in the plant biomass and soil and help to reduce global warming. Choice and management of cover crops depends on which benefits are most important, and on the cropping system. ACT’s research programme addresses this challenge by finding suitable cover crops and management for different cropping practices and use.
Weed management remains to be one of the major problems facing farmers and efforts have been continually taken to address the challenge. ACT research programme on weed management focuses on progressive weed management strategies that are often developed from an integration of affordable techniques that can account for holistic contributions from healthy functioning ecosystems. In the Research for Development of weed management strategies, a systematic approach is used to identifying the problem and providing solutions.
Soil and Water management
ACT is implementing research based projects focusing on soil and water management. Soil and water management research activities are ranking high. The impact of CA technologies on water capture and use by crops, and as mechanisms of risk reduction or adaptation is evaluated. Documentation of the 4W (What Worked, Where and Why?) is done through monitoring of CA gender-responsive adaptation and uptake by farmers during the project, yielding information on mechanisms of local adaptation to climatic variability, to inform local actions and mitigation policies. Soil rehabilitation and integrated soil fertility management is another area where soil and water management research is conducted by ACT. The emphasis is on soil fertility management and combating land degradation.
Social economics of Conservation agriculture
Conservation Agriculture (CA) dissemination efforts around the world brought out different trajectories in adoption. Focusing only on agronomic key factors in designing CA technologies failed in providing suitable solutions for their final adoption and extension. This makes it clear that context features determine the level of social acceptability of the proposed innovations. Socioeconomic research is critical to understanding the forces behind adoption of new technologies. Bridging knowledge gaps is therefore important for example on the trade-offs between farm-level profitability, environmental impacts, and risks, payments for environmental services (erosion control; carbon sequestration; biodiversity) for smallholders practicing conservation agriculture systems etc.
ACT recognizes that existence of appropriate institutional and policy framework is a prerequisite for wide-scale adoption of agricultural technologies by farmers in Africa. ACT’s research programmes are geared towards determining Policy and institutional factors promoting or hindering adoption of conservation agriculture. ACT research programme reviews the existing institutional and policy factors and how they influence promoting up-scaling of conservation agriculture.