Research Topic

Conservation Agriculture: Knowledge Frontiers Around the World

About this Research Topic

The World Soil Day recommended by the International Union of Soil Sciences, supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization and initiated by the United Nations in 2014 was created as a means to focus attention on the importance of healthy soils and to advocate for the sustainable management of soil resources. Conservation agriculture (CA) is in line with these concerns. CA relies on three fundamental pillars: minimum soil disturbance (i.e., only the soil disturbance required to bring the seed into the soil is tolerated), permanent soil cover with crop residues and live mulches, and diversified crop rotation in space and time. Initiated primarily by farmers to reduce soil degradation and production costs, this crop management system now targets different goals: gradual improvements in soil health; increased soil fertility; reduced soil degradation caused by soil erosion; improved soil structure; enhanced water infiltration and available soil moisture; reduced reliance on pesticide use through coherent crop diversification; mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration; increasing returns on investment while reducing production costs; enhancing farmers’ reconnection to their biotic and abiotic environment of production.

The area under CA is growing worldwide (at approximately 10M ha/year). It is implemented on a wide array of pedoclimates and production systems primarily in field crops (but also vegetables, vineyard, fruit trees, etc.). However, depending on the region of the world, CA also faces different challenges limiting its development, adaptation, and widespread uptake. Recent advances have highlighted how research and implementation of CA can benefit from the nexus between multiple disciplines including agronomy, ecology, social sciences, and economics among others.

The objective of this interdisciplinary Research Topic is to: (i) bring together new results from CA research around the world to provide methods and data assessing the benefits and drawbacks of CA systems (GM crops being out of the scope), helping farmers and extension services to catalyse innovations and overcome barriers to adoption, (ii) provide insights and an agenda for future research in agroecology, development, and scaling of CA systems in specific environments and more broadly, and (iii) provide guidance to decision-makers how CA systems need to be integrated into other frameworks such as sustainable and/or ecological intensification and climate-smart agriculture for a more coherent and integrated approach.
Submissions are particularly encouraged from leading thinkers who are pioneering new advances in CA from multiple disciplines and across different dimensions of agricultural sustainability.

We welcome manuscripts on the following subjects:
• Biodiversity in CA and supported agroecosystem functions/services
• Improvements to reduce CA reliance on external inputs (pesticide, fertilizer, etc.), knowledge frontiers on glyphosate-free CA
• Field-based and simulation-based results exploring CA
• Biotic stresses in CA and agroecological pest management in CA
• Abiotic stresses in CA, drought mitigation and soil water management in CA
• Agronomic and ecological basis of building soil health; physical/chemical/Biological soil fertility; Nexus between soil health and plant health
• Multicriteria assessment of CA systems
• Economic assessment of CA systems
• CA in relation to climate change adaptation and mitigation
• Farming trajectories towards the implementation of CA
• Smallholder mechanization in CA systems, improvement in farming equipment to achieve agroecological transition in CA
• Relationships between plant and animal production systems in CA (crop-livestock interaction/trade-offs)
• CA and Sustainable Development Goals
• Gender, human and social benefits of CA systems
• Business models and scaling strategies for effective uptake of CA systems amongst smallholder farmers
• Policy implications for widespread CA uptake.


Image credits: Conservation Agriculture around the world: CA based sustainable intensification of intensive cereal systems in South Asia (top left, credit: M.L. Jat); CA grain based systems in the CA-SYS platform INRAE France (top right, credit P. Farcy); Transplanting strip-till processing tomato into cover crop residue in California, USA (bottom left, credit: J.P. Mitchell); CA – animal traction direct seeding in Monze, Southern Zambia (bottom right, credit: C. Thierfelder)


Keywords: no-till, cover crop, crop diversity, multicriteria assessment, soil health, climate-smart agriculture, ecological intensification


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

The World Soil Day recommended by the International Union of Soil Sciences, supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization and initiated by the United Nations in 2014 was created as a means to focus attention on the importance of healthy soils and to advocate for the sustainable management of soil resources. Conservation agriculture (CA) is in line with these concerns. CA relies on three fundamental pillars: minimum soil disturbance (i.e., only the soil disturbance required to bring the seed into the soil is tolerated), permanent soil cover with crop residues and live mulches, and diversified crop rotation in space and time. Initiated primarily by farmers to reduce soil degradation and production costs, this crop management system now targets different goals: gradual improvements in soil health; increased soil fertility; reduced soil degradation caused by soil erosion; improved soil structure; enhanced water infiltration and available soil moisture; reduced reliance on pesticide use through coherent crop diversification; mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration; increasing returns on investment while reducing production costs; enhancing farmers’ reconnection to their biotic and abiotic environment of production.

The area under CA is growing worldwide (at approximately 10M ha/year). It is implemented on a wide array of pedoclimates and production systems primarily in field crops (but also vegetables, vineyard, fruit trees, etc.). However, depending on the region of the world, CA also faces different challenges limiting its development, adaptation, and widespread uptake. Recent advances have highlighted how research and implementation of CA can benefit from the nexus between multiple disciplines including agronomy, ecology, social sciences, and economics among others.

The objective of this interdisciplinary Research Topic is to: (i) bring together new results from CA research around the world to provide methods and data assessing the benefits and drawbacks of CA systems (GM crops being out of the scope), helping farmers and extension services to catalyse innovations and overcome barriers to adoption, (ii) provide insights and an agenda for future research in agroecology, development, and scaling of CA systems in specific environments and more broadly, and (iii) provide guidance to decision-makers how CA systems need to be integrated into other frameworks such as sustainable and/or ecological intensification and climate-smart agriculture for a more coherent and integrated approach.
Submissions are particularly encouraged from leading thinkers who are pioneering new advances in CA from multiple disciplines and across different dimensions of agricultural sustainability.

We welcome manuscripts on the following subjects:
• Biodiversity in CA and supported agroecosystem functions/services
• Improvements to reduce CA reliance on external inputs (pesticide, fertilizer, etc.), knowledge frontiers on glyphosate-free CA
• Field-based and simulation-based results exploring CA
• Biotic stresses in CA and agroecological pest management in CA
• Abiotic stresses in CA, drought mitigation and soil water management in CA
• Agronomic and ecological basis of building soil health; physical/chemical/Biological soil fertility; Nexus between soil health and plant health
• Multicriteria assessment of CA systems
• Economic assessment of CA systems
• CA in relation to climate change adaptation and mitigation
• Farming trajectories towards the implementation of CA
• Smallholder mechanization in CA systems, improvement in farming equipment to achieve agroecological transition in CA
• Relationships between plant and animal production systems in CA (crop-livestock interaction/trade-offs)
• CA and Sustainable Development Goals
• Gender, human and social benefits of CA systems
• Business models and scaling strategies for effective uptake of CA systems amongst smallholder farmers
• Policy implications for widespread CA uptake.


Image credits: Conservation Agriculture around the world: CA based sustainable intensification of intensive cereal systems in South Asia (top left, credit: M.L. Jat); CA grain based systems in the CA-SYS platform INRAE France (top right, credit P. Farcy); Transplanting strip-till processing tomato into cover crop residue in California, USA (bottom left, credit: J.P. Mitchell); CA – animal traction direct seeding in Monze, Southern Zambia (bottom right, credit: C. Thierfelder)


Keywords: no-till, cover crop, crop diversity, multicriteria assessment, soil health, climate-smart agriculture, ecological intensification


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

17 August 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

17 August 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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