In tropical Africa, conservation agriculture practices can address common production constraints on smallholder farms. In Madagascar, scientists Rodenburg et al. combined no-till and cover crops practices during a rice-maize rotation on Striga weed-infested soils. They observed soil nitrogen increments and steep reductions in soil erosion. The yield was moderate for rice but low and variable for maize.
Rice consumption in Tanzania has greatly increased since the 1960s; it is predicted to continue to increase owing to urbanization and changes in consumer preferences from traditional staples such as maize and tubers to rice. Scientists Sekiya et al. analyzed the status of rice production in Tanzania from a multidisciplinary perspective and proposed a realistic research framework much oriented toward meeting consumer demands for improving rice production in Tanzania.
Perennial grains have many environmental, agronomic and economic benefits, such as helping farmers adapt to climate change or restore degraded soils. Scientists Isgren et al. recently reviewed the knowledge about on-farm adoption and the use of perennial grains around the world. In the Sub-Saharan African context, they advocated developing a farming systems research approach in order to broaden the emerging research agenda around perennial grains.
Intercropping or cultivating simultaneously more than one species on the same land is a means of improving resource use in agriculture. In a recent analysis, scientists Jensen et al. revealed that intercropping grain legumes with cereals could reduce the requirement for synthetic N-fertilizer by 26% on a global scale, thus allowing important net land saving. Intercropping supports, therefore, the development of more sustainable cropping systems.
Conservation Agriculture is a promoted form of agriculture, sustaining climate change resilience for smallholder farmers across Africa. However, adoption rates remain low, particularly in Malawi. Scientists Hermans et al. recently revealed a clear distinction between the agro-ecological and socio-economic approaches to conservation agriculture research. They suggested that on-farm trials may help to bridge the two approaches together, leading to better understand what forms of conservation agriculture work, where, for whom and, crucially, why.
Animal stocking rate on natural grasslands is a key factor determining livestock system productivity. In Uruguay, scientists Díaz et al. analyzed how beef cattle producers decide on stocking rates, in particular, those exceeding carrying capacity. They showed that management is affected by system configurations, mainly rigidity, poverty and by economic opportunity. They propose a framework to identify barriers and traps as a first step towards increasing the Uruguayan livestock system sustainability.
Climate variability strongly influences the profitability of grazing. Scientists Nguyen-Huy et al. demonstrate that graziers can strategically move their production to other areas based on changing seasonal climate conditions. They also show that using climate information and geographic risk spreading strategies together can help graziers minimize climate risk, while not sacrificing profitability. The approach is applicable to other parts of the world and could be used to optimize risk and profitability for other agricultural sectors exposed to variable climatic conditions.
Spiders provide important ecosystem services and reflect the impacts of land-use intensification. In the Brazilian subtropics, scientists Freiberg et al. found that low grazing intensities increased pasture ground spiders’ abundance and richness in a soybean-livestock farming system. Hence, by adjusting grazing intensity in pastures, farmers can promote and diversify the spider communities.
The ground wētā is an insect pest causing damages in New Zealand vineyards. Scientists Nboyine et al. analyzed plant DNA present in the feces of this insect and revealed that many plants may constitute their staple diet. They reckoned, therefore, that deploying non-commercial trap crops around vineyards, as a decoy to feed on, is particularly appropriate to control wētā, as this insect seems to be highly generalist in its feeding behavior.
The expansion of cereal monocropping has been a growing challenge in dry areas. This trend is mostly a consequence of policies and incentives for the intensification of cereals as well as lower yields, diseases and pest susceptibility, and perceived economic disadvantages of legumes. Considering a two-year period, scientists Yigezu et al. provided evidence that rotation, especially with improved varieties of legumes, leads to a total two-year gross margin higher than cereal monocropping.