The current interest in Conservation Agriculture (CA) technologies is a result of the need to reduce excessive land degradation in most crop producing areas as well as, to enhance sustainable food production. Cover crops that are usually grown under CA to provide soil cover may offer secondary benefits depending on the farming system. The concept of growing cover crops is a relatively new phenomenon to smallholder farmers. Production of large biomass yields and weed suppression from cover crops were the major challenges affecting success and uptake of CA technologies by smallholder irrigation farmers. Coupled with this, low soil fertility limit maize productivity and reduce water use efficiency on smallholder irrigation schemes in what is largely a water strained agro-ecology in the Eastern Cape (EC) Province of South Africa (SA). While cover cropping can increase maize productivity, benefits of different types of mulch are not well understood, leading to challenges in selecting the most appropriate cover crop species to grow. With respect to any new technology, smallholder farmers are more interested in the economic benefits. This paper reviews recent research and extension efforts into CA and the future prospects of this technology in the EC.
Key words: Conservation agriculture, cover crops, nitrogen, phosphorus, smallholder farmers.
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