Conservation Agriculture With Trees: Now available, a comprehensive guide for extension workers

Conservation agriculture with trees combines the best of Conservation Agriculture with the best of Agroforestry to offer many benefits to landscapes and livelihoods. But its uptake is restricted by policy, cultural and technical issues, to name some factors. A group of scientists from the World Agroforestry Centre and partner institutions have teamed up to offer a solution to the technical barriers to uptake. “Conservation Agriculture With Trees: Principles and Practice”—a technical guide synthesized from trainings sessions conducted in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, and specially designed for extension staff who train farmers, is now available from the Centre.

Vincent Rabach, a Research Assistant at the Centre, in a field where gliricidia sepium—a nitrogen fixing shrub—has been intercropped with maize.

Vincent Rabach, a Research Assistant at the Centre, in a field where gliricidia sepium—a nitrogen fixing shrub—has been intercropped with maize.

Conservation Agriculture (CA) refers to farming practice where at least two of the following three are applied concurrently: minimum tillage, maximum soil cover and crop rotation/association. Conservation Agriculture With Trees (CAWT) introduces the incorporation of crop-friendly trees into agricultural enterprises such as crop production, along with good management practices, as aspects that can support the CA system. Combining the best of CA and the best of agroforestry (AF), CAWT aims to improve uptake of CA through the provision of tree products and services.

The World Agroforestry Centre’s Evergreen Agriculture (EGA) project, funded by the European commission (EC) through the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) promotes CAWT practices in Eastern and southern Africa to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers while sustaining the natural resource base. Although there is a lot of potential for the adoption of CAWT systems by farmers, there are many internal and external circumstances that may hinder fast and widespread adoption. These include policy issues; technology; cost and availability of inputs; arguments from different schools of thought; and cultural conditioning. In response to the technical barriers to uptake, Conservation Agriculture With Trees: Principles and Practice, ICRAF Technical Manual 21, seeks to equip extension agents with appropriate information for farmer empowerment processes through information, skills and technology transfer.

Between May and August 2012 a series of trainings were conducted in Kenya and Tanzania for extension agents from various ministries and organisations who work in partnership with the EGA project areas of Machakos County in Kenya, and Mbarali District in Tanzania. The trained extension agents further conducted training of farmers in their mandate areas with the Centre providing logistical support. It is expected that the agents will continue to stay in touch with and support farmers to increase the adoption of CA and AF.

The technical guide Conservation Agriculture With Trees: Principles and Practice was produced as a result of these trainings to assist extension agents in the East African Region conduct CAWT training for farmers and other interested stakeholders. Extension officers can use the guide to conduct a basic training course in CAWT and farmers can use an accompanying booklet entitled “Conservation Agriculture with Trees: Getting Started” to start practising CAWT. Discussion topics in the guide help solicit participation and provoke feedback from participants. Practical sessions reinforce learning and transfer of practical skills. Additional reading suggestions are provided throughout the guide.

The guide is organised into five modules and designed to provide learners with step-by-step guidelines and logical progression from one topic to the next:

  • Module One identifies the problem by dealing with issues of soil health and soil degradation.
  • Module Two proposes CAWT as a possible solution to deal with these problems; brings the principles of CA and its benefits into light; and deals with the main challenges that must be addressed for the successful application/adoption of CAWT.
  • Module Three discusses the incorporation of trees into CA, thus CAWT.
  • Module Four explains how to implement CAWT.
  • Module Five deals with CA tools and equipment options to suit different categories of farmers.

Useful annexes contain a detailed soil-loss and run-off demonstration; instructions on how to check soil for hardpans; a review of CA equipment; species recommendations for incorporation with crops; and the domestication status of some important fertilizer, fuelwood, fruit and timber tree species. Propagation, pests and diseases, agro-ecological value, and management of key tree species are dicussed in detail.

The adoption of CA in Sub-Saharan Africa has been very slow in spite of successes experienced in some countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Australia. A set of strategies—including policy support and helping farmers to make the transition from Conventional to Conservation Agriculture—is needed to accelerate the adoption process in Sub-Saharan Africa. This transition starts from declaring a willingness to change the farming technology and goes on to implement CAWT practices step-by-step in sections of the farm until the whole area under management has been put to the best possible use. This technical guide promises be an invaluable guide in understanding and establishing those practices.

Download the full technical guide here.

Conservation Agriculture With Trees: Principles and Practice
Joseph Mutua, Jonathan Muriuki, Peter Gachie, Mieke Bourne and Jude Capis
A simplified guide for Extension Staff and Farmers
Technical Manual No. 21

Improving smallholder production systems, markets, productivity, sustainability and incomes is a key focus of the CGIAR’s Collaborative Research Project 6 on Trees, Forests and Agroforestry—of which the World Agroforestry Centre is a key partner.'

Rebecca Selvarajah

Rebecca is a science writer, manager of publishing projects, trainer in science writing, and novelist — working partly from Nairobi, Kenya and partly from Morwell, Australia. With over 15 years of experience in writing, advertising/marketing, publishing and social media, she takes on varied assignments, travelling, if needed, to conduct relevant research and interviews. Originally from Sri Lanka, Rebecca holds a BA honours in Psychology, with minors in Gender Studies and Sociology. Email Rebecca on

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