Conservation agriculture refers to cultivation practices that minimise the disturbance of topsoil, reduce inputs, and substitute mineral fertilisers with organic alternatives. In contrast to conventional agriculture, conservation agriculture leaves organic residues on the surface instead of ploughing them back into the soil profile. Conservation agriculture applies specifically to the management of cultivated lands. Studies show that these practices can enhance protozoan, fungal, Collembola and earthworm diversity in the soils of cultivated lands (Bamforth, 1999). However, these farming systems are not designed to conserve biodiversity within entire production landscapes, including areas that are not cultivated and including organisms that do not occur in the soil.
Conservation Farming. In South Africa, the basic ideas for a definition of conservation farming were incorporated in a 1970’s policy on optimum resource use. The policy contained three conditions for agricultural production.
(a) Be in harmony with the natural environment
(b) Not be practised at the cost of other natural resources
(c) Be based on sound economic principles.
A more formal definition described conservation farming as farming practices that aim “to reach and maintain a balance between utilisation and conservation of agricultural resources above the point of total resource collapse” Koch (1991). The key element is the balance between using resources for current production and conserving the future potential of agricultural lands. Conservation farming therefore applies to the whole farm, including cultivated and grazing lands.
Conservation tillage is a synonym for conservation agriculture.
Ecoagriculture is defined as land use systems that are intentionally designed and managed both to increase food production and farmer incomes, and to conserve wild biodiversity and other ecosystem services (McNeely and Scherr 2002).
Organic farming refers to a type of farming that relies on natural resources to grow and process food. Organic practices include cultural and biological pest management and the use of organic fertilisers but prohibit the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides as well as antibiotics or hormones in animal production. Organic farming may benefit biodiversity, especially the diversity of soil biota and natural enemies, but is not necessarily designed to conserve biodiversity in the entire landscape. The conversion of lands under organic farming can be as intensive as under conventional agriculture.