A Review of Research with the “Foundations for Farming System” of Conservation Agriculture. By D.E. Lowe & D. Edwards March, 2014 INTRODUCTION •Brian Oldrieve, and a team of dedicated staff, have developed a system, now known as the “Foundations for Farming system” of Conservation Agriculture (CA). •There was need for a system of CA designed for low-income, small-scale farmers to feed themselves and make a profit. •It had to use appropriate technology suitable for small-scale African farmers. •The team started working on this concept in 1983 on Hinton Estates, Bindura, Zimbabwe. •Initial work was through trial and error and demonstrations. •In 2003 Foundations for Farming (FfF) moved their headquarters from Bindura to Westgate in Harare. •Westgate was developed as the first ‘Centre of Excellence’. •The “Centre of Excellence” concept was to develop strategic centers for improved demonstration, research and dissemination of information. •The Westgate Centre attracted funding primarily from the donor community from 2006 – 2012. •During this time there was a shift away from non-replicated demonstration plots to replicated trials. •In 2012 the research grant to FfF was terminated. •This paper will: a) describe FfF system in detail. b) describe key findings of R & D. c) examine leads which the R&D department are currently pursuing. d)look at how R&D has managed to raise money in 2013. : Materials and Methods The FfF system, based on the three components of CA (as outlined by FAO) can be summarised as follows: 1.Minimal soil disturbance a) Planting holes for maize i) 75 cm x 60 cm grid in rainfall areas above 700 mm. ii)75 cm x 75 cm in rainfall areas from 500 – 700 mm. Planting holes - small (15 cm x 15 cm x 8 cm). Not the primary method of improving soil moisture. b) Furrows for small grains and legumes are super-imposed either in the same position as the maize rows (or in-between the maize rows). 2.Mulch Derived from the previous crop residues. Great emphasis is placed on protecting crop residues for future crops. Mulching is the main mechanism for improving soil moisture. 3.Crop rotation Tight rotations with legumes are encouraged. A maize – soya – maize rotation has given yields of 7 t/ha in maize after soya, with no fertilizer (Westgate). : Management The FfF system, places a lot of emphasis on management. The 4 components are: 1.Doing operations on time. Nothing demonstrates this better than preparing planting holes in winter. Inorganic or organic fertilizers and seed are available at least one month before planting rains are expected. When planting rains fall, farmers are ready and can plant 1 - 3 ha per day, per family. Early planting gives above average yields with this system. 2.Doing operations without wastage. Emphasis is placed on measuring inputs precisely, and weeding early, thus saving time. 3.Doing operations to standard The grid system for planting holes is very precise, but once it has been put in place, land preparation each year becomes easier. Three maize pips are planted and then thinned to 2 plants per station. This produces a crop with a stand count of over 90% of the targeted stand count. 4.Doing operations with joy When each of the 3 components above has been done well, the farmer can enjoy the fruit of his labour and derive strength. (Nehemiah 8:10). : Potential areas for improving the system: 1.Reducing cost of nutrients Replacing inorganic fertilizers with cheaper organic fertilizers. Compost (basal fertilizer) + chicken manure (nitrogen top-dressing) has produced comparable yields to inorganic fertilizers. 2.Improving soybean growth on sandy soils If soybean yields of 2 t/ha or more could be achieved on these soils, then maize yields 3 t/ha could also be achieved through maize-soya-maize rotations, with little or no fertilizer. 3.Improving methods of doing fertility research on sandy soils. a) Challenges: In-situ, sandy soils are never uniform. They have anthills which pose a challenge to doing replicated fertility trials on farmers’ lands. In a research trial there can be numerous combinations of lime, basal fertilizer, compost, manure etc. . : Potential areas for improving the system: 3. Improving methods of doing fertility research on sandy soils (cont..) b) Solution Do screening trials on a small-scale first. Existing screening unit is made up of 200 x 200 l drums. Drums are filled with sand (8% clay). Screening unit allows for screening of promising treatments quickly, at low cost. System is designed for 50 treatments x 4 replicates. Only a few promising treatments will then be taken for testing in the lands. 4. Developing integrated farm models, which include livestock and cash crops. A start has been made on this type of work, but much more needs to be done. The Fertility screening unit with it’s first crop – cabbages (February, 2012) : Results and Discussion Early results from demonstration trials have shown the following trends: 1. High levels of manure gave comparable yields to inorganic fertilizer. 2. 200 kg/ha of compound fertilizer plus 200 kg/ha ammonium nitrate, gave the most cost-effective ield of maize, in a maize-soya-maize rotation. (Westgate - 40% clay). 3. If no fertilizer was applied to maize, the maize could produce a yield of 7 t/ha, if the maize was rotated in a maize-soya-maize rotation. 4. There was a trend for manure to perform better than compost in early demonstration trials. The FfF system encourages compost because it uses 25% manure in the mixture. Farmers can spread their manure over a larger area. 5. Where imported mulch is used e.g. Hyperrenia spp. (thatch grass), yields were as follows: Early mulch > late mulch > no mulch at all. Levels of mulch of 4 t/ha were optimal. This represents 25 – 50% ground cover. : Results and Discussion 6. In one trial (Maondera), a yield of 4 t/ha was achieved with a high rate of Rhizobium innoculum applied to the soybean seed and drenched onto the mulch in the furrow. Under the right conditions, with Rhizobium of good quality, yield of soybean on sandy soils can be increased. This work will be the primary focus of all new fertility trials in future. 7. Mucuna pruriens when grown commercially on a large block as a uniformity crop grew vigorously, gave a yield of 2 t/ha and a biomass of 4 t/ha. This crop could play an important role in the FfF system in future. It’s primary role could be as cheap way of establishing a good mulch cover when starting a field on the FfF system. ‘ Soybean on sands trial MARONDERA (the best site) Inoculum + Compost. Note the high level of nodulation. Fertility No Inoculum Inoculum Yield(t/ha) Yield(t/ha) Ant heap soil 0.53 1.57 Compound D 0.45 1.11 Compost Ant heap soil + Compound D 0.94 3.46 0.60 1.00 Ant heap soil + Compost 0.58 4.21 Ant heap soil + Compost + Compound D 0.80 3.79 MEAN 0.78 3.03 No inoculum + compost. No nodules on the roots.. : Results and Discussion Cost of Research Development in CA is hampered by cost of research. In 2013, the R&D section of FfF made local Seed Houses pay per plot to demonstrate their varieties. Maize varieties were planted along the main road from Harare to Chirundu. Signage was used to advertise 28 maize varieties form 4 seed houses. This was very popular with the seed houses. This idea provided FfF with enough funds to run the R&D department for 6 months. Other ways of raising income for R&D are at discussion stage and will be published when implemented. In future, more work will be done in “giant pots” because many treatments can be screened simultaneously. With the power of modern computing, results can be analysed, producing valuable information, at a relatively low cost.