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ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Soil Management and Sugarbeet Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #384269

Research Project: Management Practices for Long Term Productivity of Great Plains Agriculture

Location: Soil Management and Sugarbeet Research

Title: Conservation agriculture can help the South American Andean region achieve food security

item BARRERA, VICTOR - National Institute For Agricultural Research (INIAP)
item Delgado, Jorge
item ALWANG, JEFFREY - Virginia Tech

Submitted to: Agronomy Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/3/2021
Publication Date: 10/27/2021
Citation: Barrera, V.H., Delgado, J.A., Alwang, J. 2021. Conservation agriculture can help the South American Andean region achieve food security. Agronomy Journal. 113(6):4494-4509.

Interpretive Summary: Much of global agriculture is prone to extreme soil degradation, and climate change is exacerbating the process. It is likely that an increase in droughts, floods and other extreme events in the Andean region will result in even more severe impacts on agricultural production and food security. Small-scale agriculture currently practiced in the Andean region highlands is associated with excessive soil erosion, soil degradation, and loss of agricultural productivity. The current rates of surface soil loss that we estimate exceed the rate of soil formation and are unsustainable. Erosion occurs at accelerated rates in areas where intensive agriculture cultivates fragile soils on steep slopes, especially during rainy seasons. A changing climate threatens to increase erosion and degradation of the soil resources in the Andean region. Conservation agriculture provides an opportunity to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate and reduce the rate of erosion losses, increasing the potential to achieve food security in the region.

Technical Abstract: The Andean region of Ecuador is dominated by small-scale agriculture on steep slopes vulnerable to erosion, soil degradation, and subsequent productivity loss. Erosion rates exceed the average rate of soil formation by 9 to 286 times, making current agricultural practices in the region unsustainable, and threatening to increase food insecurity. The projected effects of a changing climate vary across the Andean region, with higher precipitation and erosion rates projected for some areas. However, even in areas where the precipitation rates are expected to be lower, the projected erosion rates will still be unsustainable. Recent research on conservation agriculture (CA) practices conducted from 2008 to 2017 in the highlands of Ecuador suggests that yields and cost savings ultimately make several CA production systems profitable compared to conventional practices. In the very short term, gains did not emerge, and the best that could be said about CA is that it did not reduce productivity. Over the medium term, improvements in soil health (lower erosion) led to higher profitability that made the practices more profitable than conventional practices over the entire rotation. However, adoption of these alternatives by local producers, even in research areas, is low. Lack of (public or private) agricultural extension contributes to slow diffusion in the region. There is a need to develop improved communication with local farmers to more effectively relay how conservation agriculture protects the soil, mitigates degradation, and provides a means to prevent a future humanitarian crisis that could emerge from compromised Andean soils.