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Conservation agriculture Minimal Tillage and Surface Mulching of Soils

Conservation Agriculture for Sustainable Farming

Conservation agriculture (CA) encompasses three fundamental principles: minimal soil disturbance through reduced tillage, maintaining biomass residues on the soil surface, and crop rotation with nitrogen-fixing legumes or cover crops. This approach has demonstrated its efficacy in dryland wheat farming systems, offering multiple advantages. CA enhances soil quality, improves water use efficiency, stabilizes yields, reduces input costs, and minimizes energy and time demands. Furthermore, it enriches soil biodiversity, mitigates emissions, and sequesters carbon, benefiting both farmers and the environment.


This technology is TAAT1 validated.


Scaling readiness: idea maturity 8/9; level of use 7/9

Cost: $$$ 740 USD/ha

Three-year average total production under CA

15 - 22 %

Increase in yield

18 - 21 %

water use efficiency

20 %

increase in income

923 USD/ha

Increase in profit from wheat production


Open source / open access


  • Declining Soil Fertility: Declining soil fertility in dry tropical and subtropical regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, primarily caused by excessive tillage and limited organic matter return to soils, leading to the degradation of nutrient exchange and water retention processes.
  • Water Stress: Increasing water stress due to the limited availability of water resources caused by drought spells, high-intensity rains, and overexploitation for agriculture.
  • Low Wheat Grain Yields: Low wheat grain yields and vulnerability to water shortages in dryland farming systems.
  • Environmental Impact: Environmental concerns, including emissions and carbon sequestration, in agriculture.
  • Weed Infestation: Weed infestation resulting from traditional tillage practices and lack of surface mulching, competing with wheat crops for resources and reducing overall yields.
  • Soil Erosion: Soil erosion due to intense tillage practices, leading to the loss of topsoil and degradation of soil structure, which further exacerbates soil fertility issues.
  • Soil Compaction: Soil compaction caused by heavy machinery and excessive tillage, hindering root penetration and water infiltration, thereby reducing crop productivity.
  • Pest and Disease Build-Up: Build-up of pests and diseases in conventional tillage systems, leading to increased reliance on chemical pesticides and fungicides, which pose environmental and health risks.
  • Labor Intensity: Labor-intensive weed management practices in conventional tillage systems, requiring significant time and resources, particularly in regions with limited access to labor.
  • Soil Salinization: Soil salinization resulting from improper irrigation practices and poor water management, leading to reduced crop yields and degradation of soil quality over time.


  • Conservation Agriculture (CA) Principles: CA involves minimal soil disturbance, retention of biomass residues on the soil surface, and rotation with N-fixing legumes or cover crops.
  • Improved Soil Quality: CA enhances soil quality, water use efficiency, and yield stability while diminishing expenditures on inputs, energy, and time.
  • Climate Change Adaptation: CA practices reduce drought and heat stress on crops, offering effective climate change adaptation in the food system.
  • Water and Herbicide Savings: CA slows down soil drying and weed growth, helping farmers save on irrigation water and herbicide applications.
  • Crop Rotation Benefits: Rotating between wheat and other crops like soybean, rice, cotton, or others offers advantages for managing soil nutrient supply and pest and disease build-up.
  • Broad Applicability: CA principles can be applied in various soil types and water regimes in Sub-Saharan Africa, benefiting both rainfed and irrigated production, as well as dry sub-humid and semi-arid regions.
  • Increased Crop Resilience: CA practices contribute to the resilience of crops against environmental stresses such as drought and extreme temperatures, ensuring more consistent yields even under challenging conditions.
  • Erosion Prevention: By minimizing soil disturbance and maintaining surface residues, CA helps prevent soil erosion, preserving soil structure and fertility.
  • Enhanced Biodiversity: The adoption of CA promotes soil biodiversity by creating a favorable habitat for beneficial organisms, improving overall ecosystem health.
  • Reduced Environmental Impact: CA practices contribute to reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture by minimizing soil erosion, pesticide runoff, and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Improved Farm Economics: By reducing input costs, conserving soil moisture, and stabilizing yields, CA improves the economic viability of farming operations, leading to higher profitability for farmers.

Key points to design your business plan

The technology enhances crop yields, ensuring food security and profitability for farmers. By minimizing soil disruption and conserving moisture, it reduces water and fertilizer needs, while also preventing erosion and chemical runoff, promoting environmental sustainability. Lower input costs and increased resilience to climate variability further benefit farmers economically and environmentally.

To assess the cost implications for your business, consider that the three-year average total production cost for wheat-chickpea rotation under Conservation Agriculture (CA) in Morocco is USD 740 per hectare compared to USD 838 per hectare for conventional tillage systems.

For profit estimation, note that in Mexico, profits from wheat production increase by USD 923 per hectare under CA management instead of intensive tillage.

Access to this technology is likely available through agricultural extension services, research institutions, local farming communities, and organizations dedicated to sustainable agriculture and rural development.

Moreover, explore opportunities to integrate this technology with complementary approaches, such as Heat and Drought Tolerant Wheat Varieties and pest-resistant wheat varieties.


Positive or neutral impact

Adults 18 and over
Positive high
The poor
Positive high
Under 18
Positive low
Positive high

Positive or neutral impact

Climate adaptability
It adapts really well
Adaptability for farmers
It helps a lot
It helps them grow and thrive
Carbon footprint
It reduces emissions a lot
It makes a big difference
Soil quality
It makes the soil healthier and more fertile
Water usage
It uses a lot less water

Countries with a green colour
Tested & adopted
Countries with a bright green colour
Countries with a yellow colour
Egypt Equatorial Guinea Ethiopia Algeria Angola Benin Botswana Burundi Burkina Faso Democratic Republic of the Congo Djibouti Côte d’Ivoire Eritrea Gabon Gambia Ghana Guinea Guinea-Bissau Cameroon Kenya Libya Liberia Madagascar Mali Malawi Morocco Mauritania Mozambique Namibia Niger Nigeria Republic of the Congo Rwanda Zambia Senegal Sierra Leone Zimbabwe Somalia South Sudan Sudan South Africa Eswatini Tanzania Togo Tunisia Chad Uganda Western Sahara Central African Republic Lesotho
Countries where the technology has been tested and adopted
Country Tested Adopted
Burkina Faso Tested Adopted
Ethiopia Tested Adopted
Kenya Tested Adopted
Niger Tested Adopted
Nigeria Tested Adopted
South Sudan Tested Adopted
Sudan Tested Adopted
Zambia Tested Adopted
Zimbabwe Tested Adopted

This technology can be used in the colored agro-ecological zones. Any zones shown in white are not suitable for this technology.

Agro-ecological zones where this technology can be used
AEZ Subtropic - warm Subtropic - cool Tropic - warm Tropic - cool

Source: HarvestChoice/IFPRI 2009

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that are applicable to this technology.

Sustainable Development Goal 2: zero hunger
Goal 2: zero hunger
Sustainable Development Goal 13: climate action
Goal 13: climate action
Sustainable Development Goal 1: no poverty
Goal 1: no poverty
Sustainable Development Goal 12: responsible production and consumption
Goal 12: responsible production and consumption

  1. Select Quality Wheat Seed: Choose improved varieties of bread and durum wheat that offer high yield potential, heat tolerance, and resistance to pests. Quality seed is essential for satisfactory production.
  2. Prepare Seeding Tools: Utilize tools designed for direct seeding with minimal soil disturbance. Options include disc seeders drawn by tractors or animals and dibble sticks or jab planters for manual operation.
  3. Set Row Spacing and Seed Rate: Maintain the same row spacing and seed rate density as in conventional farming systems to ensure optimal plant distribution.
  4. Apply Fertilizers: Follow recommended rates for inorganic fertilizers and animal manure. Apply them either in planting holes or through topdressing to promote high grain yields and water use efficiency.
  5. Cover Soil Surface: Obtain materials for covering the soil surface. These materials can be sourced from stover residues of the previous crop on the field or from external sources.
  6. Weed Control: Treat the soil under CA management with herbicides to control weed encroachment and maintain a weed-free environment.
  7. Mulch Maintenance: Spraying insect-repelling agents on the mulch layer may be necessary to keep it in place for an extended duration, ensuring effective surface mulching.

Last updated on 23 May 2024