Conservation Agriculture [South Africa]

Planting without ploughing/no-till

technologies_976 - South Africa

Completeness: 76%

1. General information

1.2 Contact details of resource persons and institutions involved in the assessment and documentation of the Technology

Key resource person(s)

SLM specialist:
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1.3 Conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT

The compiler and key resource person(s) accept the conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT:


1.5 Reference to Questionnaire(s) on SLM Approaches (documented using WOCAT)

2. Description of the SLM Technology

2.1 Short description of the Technology

Definition of the Technology:

Conservation agriculture included aspects such as crop rotation, mulching and no-tillage.

2.2 Detailed description of the Technology


The goal of conservation agriculture is to maintain and improve crop yields and at the same time protect and stimulate the biological binding functioning of the soil. The essential features of conservation agriculture are no-tillage, maintenance of cover (live or dead vegetal material) and crop rotation. Crops are planted through the cover with special equipment or (in the case of Mlondozi) by making holes in the ground with a hand hoe.

Soil cover inhibits erosion and the germination of weed seeds; it improves soil and water retention and reduces compaction.

Crop-seeds are planted without prior ploughing. If a plough sole exists, soil has to be ripped, if not, crop seeds can be planted. It is advisable to move gradually from tillage to no-tillage over a period of 4-5 years, starting with a crop that produces enough organic material (2-3 ton dry material annually).

2.3 Photos of the Technology

2.5 Country/ region/ locations where the Technology has been applied and which are covered by this assessment


South Africa

Region/ State/ Province:


Further specification of location:


Specify the spread of the Technology:
  • evenly spread over an area
If the Technology is evenly spread over an area, specify area covered (in km2):


If precise area is not known, indicate approximate area covered:
  • 1-10 km2

Total area covered by the SLM Technology is 5.2 km2.

Total technology area is approximately 300 ha.

2.6 Date of implementation

If precise year is not known, indicate approximate date:
  • less than 10 years ago (recently)

2.7 Introduction of the Technology

Specify how the Technology was introduced:
  • through projects/ external interventions
Comments (type of project, etc.):

Technology was implemented in several countries in the world e.g. Brasilia/Argentina/Australia/North America and African countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, e.g.

3. Classification of the SLM Technology

3.1 Main purpose(s) of the Technology

  • improve production
  • reduce, prevent, restore land degradation
  • conserve ecosystem

3.2 Current land use type(s) where the Technology is applied



  • Annual cropping
Annual cropping - Specify crops:
  • cereals - maize
Number of growing seasons per year:
  • 1

Longest growing period in days: 170; Longest growing period from month to month: Nov - Apr

Is crop rotation practiced?



major cash crop and major food crop: Maize

Major land use problems (compiler’s opinion): - Soil compaction (plough layer) . - Reduced soil fertility. - Soil acidity. - Overgrazing. - Lack of implements. - Lack of land tenure.

Major land use problems (land users’ perception): - Lack of land tenure. - Lack of money.

3.4 Water supply

Water supply for the land on which the Technology is applied:
  • rainfed

3.5 SLM group to which the Technology belongs

  • improved ground/ vegetation cover
  • minimal soil disturbance
  • integrated soil fertility management

3.6 SLM measures comprising the Technology

agronomic measures

agronomic measures

  • A3: Soil surface treatment
A3: Differentiate tillage systems:

A 3.1: No tillage

vegetative measures

vegetative measures

structural measures

structural measures

management measures

management measures


Main measures: agronomic measures, vegetative measures, management measures

Secondary measures: structural measures

Type of agronomic measures: better crop cover, mulching, mineral (inorganic) fertilizers, rotations / fallows, breaking compacted topsoil, zero tillage / no-till, breaking compacted subsoil

3.7 Main types of land degradation addressed by the Technology

soil erosion by water

soil erosion by water

  • Wt: loss of topsoil/ surface erosion
  • Wg: gully erosion/ gullying
chemical soil deterioration

chemical soil deterioration

  • Cn: fertility decline and reduced organic matter content (not caused by erosion)
water degradation

water degradation

  • Ha: aridification

Secondary types of degradation addressed: Wt: loss of topsoil / surface erosion, Wg: gully erosion / gullying

Main causes of degradation: other human induced causes (specify) (Agricultural causes), other natural causes (avalanches, volcanic eruptions, mud flows, highly susceptible natural resources, extreme topography, etc.) specify, education, access to knowledge and support services (Lack of knowledge)

Secondary causes of degradation: over-exploitation of vegetation for domestic use, overgrazing, land tenure (No land deeds), poverty / wealth (Lack of captial)

3.8 Prevention, reduction, or restoration of land degradation

Specify the goal of the Technology with regard to land degradation:
  • prevent land degradation
  • reduce land degradation

4. Technical specifications, implementation activities, inputs, and costs

4.1 Technical drawing of the Technology

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Technical specifications (related to technical drawing):

Technical drawing

Location: Mlondozi. Mpumalanga

Technical knowledge required for field staff / advisors: moderate

Technical knowledge required for land users: low

Main technical functions: improvement of ground cover, increase in organic matter, increase of infiltration, increase / maintain water stored in soil, improvement of soil structure

Secondary technical functions: control of raindrop splash, control of dispersed runoff: retain / trap, control of dispersed runoff: impede / retard, control of concentrated runoff: retain / trap, control of concentrated runoff: impede / retard, control of concentrated runoff: drain / divert, increase of surface roughness, water harvesting / increase water supply, sediment retention / trapping, sediment harvesting, reduction in wind speed, increase in soil fertility

Better crop cover
Material/ species: maize/grass

Material/ species: maize/legume

Agronomic measure: removing less vegetation cover
Material/ species: maize

Mineral (inorganic) fertilizers
Material/ species: 2:3:2 (22)

Soil conditioners (lime, gypsum)
Material/ species: lime

Rotations / fallows
Material/ species: soya/any beans

Major change in timing of activities: systems approach

Other type of management: change of management / intensity level


Hester Jansen van Rensburg

4.2 General information regarding the calculation of inputs and costs

other/ national currency (specify):


If relevant, indicate exchange rate from USD to local currency (e.g. 1 USD = 79.9 Brazilian Real): 1 USD =:


4.3 Establishment activities

Activity Timing (season)
1. Exclude animals from field Feb - April
2. Fencing Once
3. Spraying of weeds October

4.4 Costs and inputs needed for establishment


Duration of establishment phase: 48 month(s)

4.5 Maintenance/ recurrent activities

Activity Timing/ frequency
1. No-tillage Oct/Nov / Once with ploughing
2. Crop rotation Oct/Nov / Every second year rotation
3. Keep lands weed free Dec - Jan / Once - 3 times

4.6 Costs and inputs needed for maintenance/ recurrent activities (per year)

Specify input Unit Quantity Costs per Unit Total costs per input % of costs borne by land users
Fertilizers and biocides Pesticide ha 1.0 20.0 20.0
Fertilizers and biocides Save - ploughing ha 1.0 40.0 40.0
Total costs for maintenance of the Technology 60.0
Total costs for maintenance of the Technology in USD 6.0

4.7 Most important factors affecting the costs

Describe the most determinate factors affecting the costs:

High weed population

5. Natural and human environment

5.1 Climate

Annual rainfall
  • < 250 mm
  • 251-500 mm
  • 501-750 mm
  • 751-1,000 mm
  • 1,001-1,500 mm
  • 1,501-2,000 mm
  • 2,001-3,000 mm
  • 3,001-4,000 mm
  • > 4,000 mm
Specify average annual rainfall (if known), in mm:


Agro-climatic zone
  • semi-arid

Short season, cold winters (moderate climate)

5.2 Topography

Slopes on average:
  • flat (0-2%)
  • gentle (3-5%)
  • moderate (6-10%)
  • rolling (11-15%)
  • hilly (16-30%)
  • steep (31-60%)
  • very steep (>60%)
  • plateau/plains
  • ridges
  • mountain slopes
  • hill slopes
  • footslopes
  • valley floors
Altitudinal zone:
  • 0-100 m a.s.l.
  • 101-500 m a.s.l.
  • 501-1,000 m a.s.l.
  • 1,001-1,500 m a.s.l.
  • 1,501-2,000 m a.s.l.
  • 2,001-2,500 m a.s.l.
  • 2,501-3,000 m a.s.l.
  • 3,001-4,000 m a.s.l.
  • > 4,000 m a.s.l.

5.3 Soils

Soil depth on average:
  • very shallow (0-20 cm)
  • shallow (21-50 cm)
  • moderately deep (51-80 cm)
  • deep (81-120 cm)
  • very deep (> 120 cm)
Soil texture (topsoil):
  • medium (loamy, silty)
  • fine/ heavy (clay)
Topsoil organic matter:
  • medium (1-3%)
  • low (<1%)
If available, attach full soil description or specify the available information, e.g. soil type, soil PH/ acidity, Cation Exchange Capacity, nitrogen, salinity etc.

Soil fertility is low - medium

Soil drainage / infiltration is medium

Soil water storage capacity is medium

5.6 Characteristics of land users applying the Technology

Market orientation of production system:
  • subsistence (self-supply)
Off-farm income:
  • > 50% of all income
Relative level of wealth:
  • poor
  • very rich
Level of mechanization:
  • manual work
  • mechanized/ motorized
Indicate other relevant characteristics of the land users:

65% of the land users are very rich.
5% of the land users are average wealthy.
30% of the land users are poor.

Off-farm income specification: Pensions to by inputs.

Level of mechanization: Animal traction is possible, but less common

5.7 Average area of land used by land users applying the Technology

  • < 0.5 ha
  • 0.5-1 ha
  • 1-2 ha
  • 2-5 ha
  • 5-15 ha
  • 15-50 ha
  • 50-100 ha
  • 100-500 ha
  • 500-1,000 ha
  • 1,000-10,000 ha
  • > 10,000 ha

Average area of land owned or leased by land users applying the Technology: Also 5-15 ha

5.8 Land ownership, land use rights, and water use rights

Land ownership:
  • individual, not titled
Land use rights:
  • leased

6. Impacts and concluding statements

6.1 On-site impacts the Technology has shown

Socio-economic impacts


crop production

Quantity before SLM:

0.5 t/ha

Quantity after SLM:

4.5 t/ha

fodder production


fodder quality

Income and costs



Socio-cultural impacts

community institutions

Comments/ specify:

Groups formed - meetings

SLM/ land degradation knowledge

Comments/ specify:


Ecological impacts

Water cycle/ runoff

excess water drainage


soil moisture


soil cover

Quantity before SLM:

10 %

Quantity after SLM:

50 %

Other ecological impacts

soil fertility



Comments/ specify:

Introduction of multi purpose crops/legumes.

6.2 Off-site impacts the Technology has shown

downstream flooding


6.4 Cost-benefit analysis

How do the benefits compare with the establishment costs (from land users’ perspective)?
Short-term returns:

very positive

Long-term returns:

very positive

How do the benefits compare with the maintenance/ recurrent costs (from land users' perspective)?
Short-term returns:

very positive

Long-term returns:

very positive

6.5 Adoption of the Technology

  • > 50%
If available, quantify (no. of households and/ or area covered):

220 households

Of all those who have adopted the Technology, how many did so spontaneously, i.e. without receiving any material incentives/ payments?
  • 11-50%

200 land user families have adopted the Technology with external material support

Comments on acceptance with external material support: survey results

20 land user families have adopted the Technology without any external material support

Comments on spontaneous adoption: estimates

There is a moderate trend towards spontaneous adoption of the Technology

6.7 Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities of the Technology

Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the land user’s view
Increase yields

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Training
Cheaper way of planting
Improve water infiltration

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Mulch
Reduce erosion

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Mulch
Time saving
Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view
Early planting - not dependant on tractors and ploughs

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Training
Soil - reduce soil erosion

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Increase in organic material in soil
Weed control - reduce weed population

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Use of herbicides
Improve water retention - lower risk of draught periods

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Mulch
Reduction in input cost (R500/ha)

Increase yields

6.8 Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks of the Technology and ways of overcoming them

Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks in the land user’s view How can they be overcome?
Lack of no-till implements
Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view How can they be overcome?
Lack of mechanisation of no-till implements Exposure to implements

7. References and links

7.1 Methods/ sources of information

7.2 References to available publications

Title, author, year, ISBN:

Demonstration & Assessment of sustainable land management practices in the Mlondozi district of Mpumalanga. Du Preez, Kidson, Beukes & Smith. 1998/1999/2000.

Available from where? Costs?


Links and modules

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