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Profitability and opportunity of conservation agriculture in acid savannah grasslands of Laos

Lienhard P., Panyasiri K., Sayphoummie S., Leudphanane B., Lestrelin G., Séguy L., Tivet F.. 2014. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 12 (4) : p. 391-406.

DOI: 10.1080/14735903.2013.806419

In north-eastern Laos, the savannah grasslands of the Plain of Jars cover vast areas of potentially cultivable land. However, soil acidity, low inherent fertility, and the absence of alternatives to tillage represent significant constraints to the development of sustainable smallholder agriculture. Our objective was to evaluate the potential for conservation agriculture (CA) to enhance soil productivity and farming system profitability. A three-year rotation of rice/maize/soybean was tested under three fertilization levels and four agricultural systems: one conventional tillage-based (CT) system and three CA systems based on no-tillage with cover crops. After four cropping seasons, our results show that, compared with CT, CA systems led to similar-to-higher grain production, similar-to-higher profits, higher opportunity of livestock system intensification, and higher labour productivity regardless of fertilization levels. While CA represents a relevant alternative to current practices, our results suggest that its contribution to the emergence of a sustainable smallholder agriculture is conditioned by broader institutional transformations, including the enrolment of local manufacturers and traders for deploying no-till implements and seed market channels for cover crops, long-term public support to maintain active research and technical mentoring to farmers, and possibly the integration of ecosystem services in agricultural policy.

Mots-clés : oryza sativa; zea mays; glycine max; petite exploitation agricole; rotation culturale; système de culture; pratique culturale; agroécologie; culture sous couvert végétal; productivité des terres; rendement des cultures; travail du sol; non-travail du sol; changement technologique; labour; fertilisation; conservation des sols; sol acide; savane; agriculture durable; république démocratique populaire lao; agriculture de conservation

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