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Conservation Agriculture (CA) is an operational and integrated approach of agro-ecology to manage agro-ecosystems for improved and sustained productivity, increased profits and food security while preserving and enhancing the environment. CA is characterized by three principles:

  1. Minimum or no mechanical soil disturbance.
  2. Permanent mulch soil cover.
  3. Diversification of crop species grown in sequences and/or associations.

CA is a farmer-centred, well thought out systems view of agriculture production that builds and utilizes natural nutrient cycles.
CA protects and enhances soil and water resources and, increases ecosystem services. 

CA principles are universally applicable to all agricultural landscapes and land uses, with locally adapted practices. Conservation agriculture is a best practice for food security, provides resilience to cope with climate extremes, protects environmental quality, and stores carbon in the soil reducing agriculture’s global carbon footprint.

CA enhances biodiversity and natural biological processes above and below ground surface. Detrimental interventions such as mechanical soil disturbance are reduced to an absolute minimum or avoided, and external inputs such as agrochemicals and plant nutrients of mineral or organic origin are applied optimally and in ways and quantities that do not interfere with, or disrupt, the biological processes.

CA is compatible with a wide range of agriculture production systems and farm types.

Conservation Agriculture (CA) has been adopted by innovative farmers around the world for its environmental and economic attributes.  Once practices have shifted from Conventional to CA, further economic and social benefits are accrued (lower capital investment costs, increased education and knowledge, community leadership).

CA has spread across more than 55 countries to a current level of  180 million hectares. FAO has played a key leadership role in this achievement.

To meet the need for new research results, applicable and relevant information along with community of practice support, CA farmer organizations have emerged in many countries.  Their continued search for knowledge, practical experiences and new insights have precipitated the formation of regional federations as well as a World Congress every two years under the sponsorship of FAO and other supporters.

The concurrent emergence of environmental interests/concerns such as biodiversity, Millennium Assessment, Sustainable Development Goals, climate change vulnerability and resilience have underlined the desirable attributes of CA and the correct direction of mainstreaming efforts of adoption.

Food security is better addressed through CA via greater diversity of crops and less climate vulnerability to both intense weather (intense storms) and climate variations (drought).  Diversity of CA applications can also extend to integrated crop-livestock and crop-livestock-forestry systems.

In 2015, communication amongst CA enthusiasts and organizations resulted in a collaboration to ensure CA and Agriculture content is before participants at COP21.  This organization adopted the name, Global Conservation Agriculture Network – GCAN.

GCAN is intended to be a collaborative network not to replace any CA organization but to augment and support all of them and most importantly to link them so that the transfer of knowledge, innovation and support can be catalyzed.

Agriculture and policy institutions around the world need to consider the bottom-up experience, wisdom and reality of farmer input.  There are extremely few communication channels for farmer voices - GCAN is one of them. 

National and regional organizations have their hands full serving their farmer membership and very little capacity remains to reach out across the globe.  GCAN volunteers intend to help develop the linkages, transfer of knowledge and facilitate leadership through global community support.

Agriculture production is becoming more system orientated than ever before.  The integration of resource sustainability, environment and climate concerns make those systems even more complex and increasingly foreign or difficult for non-agriculture organizations to understand and communicate with.

As the agriculture population remains steady and population and interests in tangential areas increases, there will be an increasing need for agriculture practitioners to have the skills to reach out and bridge across societal interests.

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