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Substantial terminology has been used to refer to alternative agricultural practices, technologies and approaches depending on the understanding of the concept from one region to another and on its evolution: Minimum Tillage (MT), Low Tillage, Reduced Tillage (RT), No Tillage (NT), Zero-Tillage (ZT), Conservation Tillage, Crop Residue Management (CRM), Direct Planting in Straw, Permanent Direct Seeding, Direct sowing Mulch-based Conservation agriculture (DMC), Conservation Agriculture, No-Till/Conservation Agriculture (NT/CA), Agroforestry, Ley Farming, Organic Agriculture (OA), Organic Farming, Ecological Agriculture, Biological Agriculture, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Integrated Plant Nutrient Systems (IPNS), Sustainable Land Management (SLM) and Better Land Husbandry (BLH)… [1][2][3][4][5][6][7]. It is obvious that many of these concepts refer to the same technical practices and precise definitions are needed to help to ensure shared understanding by research scientists, experts, farmers and policymakers; this may help their dissemination[2].

In the perspective of "World agriculture: towards 2015/2030"[3], IPM, IPNS, NT/CA and OA are seen as complementary elements that could contribute to making agriculture more sustainable. Agricultural biotechnology is considered as a possible large potential contributor to productivity gains and quality improvements, but there are also numerous risks and uncertainties associated with this new technology that have given rise to a host of concerns and questions. In a World Bank publication[1], No-Till farming is seen as a component of SLM and BLH approaches aiming at sustainable rural development.

Available data (Table 1) show that NT, OA and GM crops (GMOs) have been grown on several million hectares during the last decade, mainly in North and South America and Australia (Table 1). Figures show that about 84% of NT areas are in America (36.7% in North America, 47.5% in Latin America), 12.5% in Australia and only 1.2% in Europe. The most significant OA areas are in Australia (46%), Argentina (14%) and Italy (5%) while the OA area represents about 22% of the total in the whole of geographical Europe . 96% of GM crop areas are in the Americas: 68% in the USA, 22% in Argentina and 6% in Canada where there was a slight decrease between 1999 and 2001.

Figures indicate that there has been significant extension of NT areas during the past decade: 35-fold, 14-fold, 110-fold and 5-fold respectively in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and USA (Fig 2). Comparatively, GM crops have increased more than 30-fold in only six years (1996-2001).

GM crops are cultivated in 13 countries[3] while OA is practised in about 100 countries[10]. The number of countries that have adopted NT/CA technologies is not known due to lack of data. The historical development of NT/CA (www.rolf-derpsch.com) shows that these technologies are little adopted in many Asian and African countries even if their suitability is suggested[5][6][11][12]. An interesting feature drawn from the figures is the concentration of NT, OA and GM crop technologies in the USA, MERCOSUR countries and in 11 out of 17 countries of the Cairns Group (Table 2, Fig. 1). Argentina seems to be the country of co-existence of NT, OA and GM crops and conventional agricultural systems. The co-existence of GM and non-GM crops in agriculture is being investigated in Europe ; learning from the Argentinean case may benefit EC efforts.

OA is progressing[10] in the greater part of Europe while the backwardness of NT/CA technologies is noticeable even if their suitability is recognised[8][13][14]. Lessons learned from the Brazilian experience show that shifting from conventional to NT/CA farming is not a simple switch from one technical package to another[1]. Close collaboration between all the stakeholders (researchers, extensionists, farmers and the private sector), on-farm trials and participatory technology development, education and training, sound strategy and support policy are among the key factors of the Brazilian success story. The lack of information on agro-ecology and the high demand for management skills are major barriers to the adoption of sustainable agriculture[3]. This is also valid for OA that is currently driven by consumer demand reinforced by the fear generated by food and water contamination, (dioxin, pesticides, heavy metals, etc.), livestock epidemics (BSE and foot-and-mouth disease, etc.) and GM food. The long-term viability of OA is conditioned by the ability of scientific and technical responses to concrete issues; a recent survey of 4638 US certified organic farmers[15] has shown that the research priorities ranked highest by farmers are weed management (including weed ecology, soil fertility, plant allelopathy, rotation strategies, cultivation equipment and techniques, tillage, reduced tillage and no-till methods, mulching and composting), fertility management and crop health, organic growing practices and product nutritional value, soil biology and crop rotation. The expansion of NT/CA faces the same issues.

KASSA intends to use inventories, assessment, cross analysis, refinement and the sharing of findings on sustainable agriculture research results and practical lessons in order to achieve the following:

  • Reinforce the capacity of the European Research Area (ERA). It will provide major new relevant and on-site based research items and approaches contributing to agriculture, the environment and the sustainability of natural resources. This might help ERA to play an effective role as interface between societal needs and policy requirements;
  • Enhance the knowledge and initiative capacity of European farmers and extensionists. It will provide reliable practical information that might help to match new, profitable economic strategies and the adoption of new technologies for the combined sustaining of agricultural activity and protecting the environment and natural resources;
  • Increase awareness and promote the commitment of NGOs, farmer organisations and the private sector through free, easy access to a website information system on sustainable agriculture (knowledge and prospects);
  • Contribute refined relevant key information that may help policymakers to develop and implement a new agricultural and environmental policy that matches the requirements of sustainable development.

Moreover, KASSA's achievements will provide an updated, state-of-the-art view of sustainable agriculture in Europe and other countries. This will provide a reliable basis for the development of new concepts and site-specific technological strategies for sustainable resources management. The information assembled will form a reference database of great interest for land-use modelling purposes; it will give the European scientific community an opportunity to initiate the setting up of a comprehensive logical and conceptual framework aimed at collecting and formatting biophysical and socio-economic patterns in support of policy-making.

Hence, KASSA will contribute to the work programme of the FP6 sub-priority 6.3 Global Change and Ecosystem. More specifically, KASSA results will be of benefit to research areas: I- Impacts and mechanisms of GHGs emissions and carbon sinks; II- Water cycle, including soil-related aspects; III- Biodiversity and Ecosystems; IV- Mechanisms of desertification; V- Sustainable land management and, to complementary researches dealing with risk assessment, environmental quality.

1. According to European Conservation Agriculture Forum (ECAF), Conservation Agriculture refers to several practices which permit the management of the soil for agrarian uses, altering its composition, structure and natural biodiversity as little as possible and defending it from degradation processes (e.g. soil erosion and compaction). Direct sowing (non-tillage), reduced tillage (minimum tillage), non - or surface-incorporation of crop residues and establishment of cover crops in perennial woody crops (of spontaneous vegetation or by sowing appropriate species) in perennial woody crops or in between successive annual crops, are some of the techniques which constitute conservation Agriculture. Generally, Conservation Agriculture includes any practice which reduces, changes or eliminates soil tillage and avoids residues burning to maintain enough surface residue throughout the year (www.ecaf.org).

According to FAO (2003), NT/CA maintains and improves crop yields and resilience against drought and other hazards, while at the same time protecting and stimulating the biological functioning of the soil. The essential features of NT/CA are: minimal soil disturbance restricted to planting and drilling; maintenance of a permanent cover of live or dead vegetal material on the soil surface; direct sowing; crop rotation combining different plant families (e.g. cereals and legumes); adequate biomass generation; and continuous cropland use. Variants of NT/CA in different countries, depending on the perceived importance of one or another aspect of the approach are: zero tillage; minimum or low tillage; plantio directo na palha (direct planting in straw); siembra directo permanente (permanent direct seeding); and conservation tillage.

2.UE, Accession Countries, EFTA Countries plus Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Yugoslavia.
3. Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay.
4. Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, New Zealand, Paraguay, South Africa, Uruguay.
5. Scenarios for co-existence of genetically modified, conventional and organic crops in European agriculture. Synthesis Report. IPTS, EC-JRC, Seville. 2002. 133pp. http://www.jrc.cec.eu.int/download/gmcrops_coexistence.pdf)

[1] Pieri, C., Evers, G., Landers, J., O'Connell, P. and Terry, E. (2002). No-Till farming for sustainable rural development. Agriculture & Rural Development Working Paper. Washington D.C.: IBRD Rural Development Department. 65pp.
[2] Derpsch, R. (2001). Conservation tillage, No-tillage and related technologies. Proceedings of the 1st World Congress on Conservation Agriculture. Garcia-Torres et al. Eds. Spain. ECAF & FAO. Volume I: 160-170.
[3]FAO. 2003. World agriculture: towards 2015/2020. AN FAO PERSPECTIVE. Ed. Bruinsma, J., Earthscan Publications Ltd, London. p297-330.
[4]Seguy, L., and Bouzinac, S. (2001). Direct seeding on plant cover: sustainable cultivation of our planet's soils. Proceedings of the 1st World Congress on Conservation Agriculture. Garcia-Torres et al. Eds. Spain. ECAF & FAO. Volume I: 85-91.
[5]Steiner, K., and Bwalya, M. (2001). The African conservation tillage network enhancing conservation tillage in Africa. Proceedings of the 1st World Congress on Conservation Agriculture. Garcia-Torres et al. Eds. Spain. ECAF & FAO. Volume I: 105-116.
[6]Harrington, L.W. (2001). A world of conservation agriculture. Proceedings of the 1st World Congress on Conservation Agriculture. Garcia-Torres et al. Eds. Spain. ECAF & FAO. Volume I: 153-158.
[7]Robson, M.C., Fowler, S.M., Lampkin, N.H., Leifert, C., Leitch, M., Robinson, D., and Watson, C.A. (2002). The agronomic and economic potential of break crop for ley/arable rotations in temperate organic agriculture. Advance in Agronomy, 77: 369-427.
[8]Garcia-Torres, L., Martinez-Vilela, A., and Serrano De Norena, F. (2001). Conservation agriculture in Europe: current status and perspectives. Proceedings of the 1st World Congress on Conservation Agriculture. Garcia-Torres et al. Eds. Spain. ECAF & FAO. Volume I: 79-83.
[9]Tebrügge, F., and Böhrsen, A. (2001). Farmers' and experts' opinion on no-tillage in West-Europe and Nebraska (USA). Proceedings of the 1st World Congress on Conservation Agriculture. Garcia-Torres et al. Eds. Spain. ECAF & FAO. Volume I: 61-69.
See also workshops proceedings and report of the EC-Concerted Action (AIR 3-CT 93-1464):
-Proceedings of the EC-Workshop-I- Giessen, 1994; ISBN 3-930600-16-1;
-Proceedings of the EC-Workshop-II- Silsoe, 1995; ISBN 3-930600-46-3;
-Proceedings of the EC-Workshop-III- Evora, 1996; ISBN 3-930600-69-2
-Proceedings of the EC-Workshop-IV-Boigneville, 1997; 3-930600-95-1;
-Final Report "Experience with the applicability of No-tillage crop production in West-European countries" Tebrügge F. and Böhrnsen A. Eds, Giessen, 1998. 90p. ISBN 3-922306-30-6.
[10] IFOAM (2003). The world of organic agriculture. Statistics and future prospects. Yussefi, M. and Willer, H. Eds. ISBN 3-934055-22-2, (www.soel.de/inhalte/publikationen/s/s_74.pdf), 127pp.
[11]Gill, M.A. (2001). Need for establishment of south Asian conservation agriculture network. Proceedings of the 1st World Congress on Conservation Agriculture. Garcia-Torres et al. Eds. Spain. ECAF & FAO. Volume I: 117-125.
[12]Mrabet, R. (2001). No-Tillage system: research findings, needed developments and future challenges for Morroccan dryland agriculture. Proceedings of the 1st World Congress on Conservation Agriculture. Garcia-Torres et al. Eds. Spain. ECAF & FAO. Volume II: 737-741.
[13]Tebrügge, F., and Düring, R.A. (1999). Reducing tillage intensity- a review of results from a long-term study in Germany. Soil & Tillage Research 53: 15-28.
[14]Düring, R.A., Hoss, T., and Gäth, S. (2001). Pollutant behaviour in soil under the influence of tillage. Proceedings of the 1st World Congress on Conservation Agriculture. Garcia-Torres et al. Eds. Spain. ECAF & FAO. Volume II: 331-341.
[15]Walz, E. (1999). Final results of the third biennal national organic farmers' survey. Organic Farming Research Foundation, California. (http://www.ofrf.org/publications/survey/Final.Results.Third.NOF.Survey.pdf ) 126pp.
[16]Benites, J., and Ashburner, J.E. (2001). FAO's role in promoting conservation agriculture. Proceedings of the 1st World Congress on Conservation Agriculture. Garcia-Torres et al. Eds. Spain. ECAF & FAO. Volume I: 133-147.
[17]Raunet, M. (2003). La gazette des SCV au CIRAD. Systèmes de culture sur couvertures végétales. No 14, February-March (http://intranet.cirad.fr/lettres-infos/gazette14scv.doc), 35pp.
[18]Derpsch, R. and Benites, J.R. (2003). Situation of conservation agriculture in the world. 2nd World Congress on Conservation Agriculture. Lectures & Posters CD-Rom: 125-135.

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