Digging into Conservation Agriculture Websites and Publications

What is Conservation Agriculture (CA)?

CA is a set of soil management practices that minimize the disruption of the soil’s structure, composition and natural biodiversity. Despite high variability in the types of crops grown and specific management regimes, all forms of conservation agriculture share three core principles. These include:

  • maintenance of permanent or semi-permanent soil cover (using either a previous crop residue or specifically growing a cover crop for this purpose);
  • minimum soil disturbance through tillage (just enough to get the seed into the ground) ;
  • regular crop rotations to help combat the various biotic constraints;
  • supports soil health and the rich natural ecosystem

CA also uses or promotes where possible or needed various management practices listed below:

  • utilization of green manures/cover crops (GMCC’s) to produce the residue cover;
  • no burning of crop residues;
  • integrated disease and pest management;
  • controlled/limited human and mechanical traffic over agricultural soils.

When these CA practices are used by farmers one of the major environmental benefits is reduction in fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But they also reduce the power/energy needs of farmers who use manual or animal powered systems.

From the Conservation Agriculture Knowledge Portal at Cornell University


Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations ‪David R. Montgomery, 2012dirt

This is where many people begin their experience with CA

Dirt, soil, call it what you want—it’s everywhere we go. It is the root of our existence, supporting our feet, our farms, our cities. This fascinating yet disquieting book finds, however, that we are running out of dirt, and it’s no laughing matter. An engaging natural and cultural history of soil that sweeps from ancient civilizations to modern times, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations explores the compelling idea that we are—and have long been—using up Earth’s soil. Once bare of protective vegetation and exposed to wind and rain, cultivated soils erode bit by bit, slowly enough to be ignored in a single lifetime but fast enough over centuries to limit the lifespan of civilizations. A rich mix of history, archaeology and geology, Dirt traces the role of soil use and abuse in the history of Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, China, European colonialism, Central America, and the American push westward. We see how soil has shaped us and we have shaped soil—as society after society has risen, prospered, and plowed through a natural endowment of fertile dirt. David R. Montgomery sees in the recent rise of organic and no-till farming the hope for a new agricultural revolution that might help us avoid the fate of previous civilizations. From the Preface

The Conservation Agriculture Group at Cornell University

This site maintains a very diverse international resource for CA.  Academic articles, international groups, monthly news, upcoming conferences, the Two-wheel Tractor Newsletter and much more is available at this knowledge portal/website.  It is an excellent first stop for up to date CA resources and news.


This organization and their website has excellent information, including videos, equipment, conference information and presentations as well as links to a very large number of regional CA groups.

Dirt First, a renegade soil scientist is transforming American agriculture,  Kristin Ohlson, in Orion Magazine, 2016

In a very accessible way this Orion magazine article by Kristion Ohlson tells the story of the critical importance of soil health,.

Thousands of years of poor farming and ranching practices―and, especially, modern industrial agriculture―have led to the loss of up to 80 percent of carbon from the world’s soils. That carbon is now floating in the atmosphere, and even if we stopped using fossil fuels today, it would continue warming the planet. In The Soil Will Save Us, journalist and bestselling author Kristin Ohlson makes an elegantly argued, passionate case for “our great green hope”―a way in which we can not only heal the land but also turn atmospheric carbon into beneficial soil carbon―and potentially reverse global warming. From the Amazon review:  The Soil Will Save Us


Landscapes Transformed: The History of Conservation Tillage and Direct Seeding, edited by C. Wayne Lindwall and Berie Sonntag


Jeff Esdaile’s Two-Wheel Tractor Newsletter
There is a wealth of very creative mechanization for farmers who have access to two wheel drive tractors.  The site is hosted by the Cornell Conservation Agriculture website.

  • http://conservationagriculture.mannlib.cornell.edu/pages/resources/twowheel.html

Roller/Crimper Designs for Cover Crops Management on Different Farm Scales Using Conservation Practices, Ted S. Kornecki, Agricultural Engineer, USDA, 2014

This is good example of much needed CA equipment being scaled down in size and weight. Test results are presented very clearly.


Here is a fun example of citizen science and a good measure of soil health that children can dig into. One of Earth Link’s first projects was an environmental group for high school students and as one of our activities we sold worms.

Three images of the “Jua Kali Planter” from Earth Links’ coming open source equipment database

Earth Links is working on a database and website for small-holder farmers who need well designed, tested, and very inexpensive tools that can be be construct by local blacksmiths or manufactured regionally. Designs will be available as CAD files, PDFs, photos and videos.

Planter-JuaKali-170123-copy-2-3 Planter-JuaKali-170123-copy-2-1 Planter-JuaKali-170123-copy-2-2

Women Farmer Links

  1. SRI and It’s Impacts on Women
  2. SRI Cultivates Well-Being for Women
  3. System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and Labouring Bodies
  4. Gender Issues in Weeder Design
  5. SRI4Women
  6. Small Farmers Can Reap Big Benefits with Affordable Tools
  7. Mechanical Advantage: Oxfam working with RACHANA to modify weeders for women farmers.
  8. Weeding Out Complexities of Rice Farming
  9. Women Showing the Way with Agroecology
  10. Understanding dynamics of labour in System of Rice Intensification (SRI): Insights from grassroots experiences in Odisha, India, Sabarmatee’s Phd .pdf
  11. Workload on Women Using Cono Weeder in SRI Method of Paddy Cultivation. I do not have a hot link for this article yet. Link for ANGR Agricultural University, Rajendranagar, Hyderabad Journals is: 
  12. Women Friendly Equipment with Photographs From the Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering (ICAR) India Drudgery Reducing Technologies for Women in Agriculture
    https://farmech.dac.gov.in/Women%20Friendaly%20Equipment-  With%20photographs.pdf
  13. System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and Labouring Bodies
  14. Gender Issues in Rice Based Farming Systems
  15. Final report of RACHANA/Oxfam project to modify tools for women rice farmers
    No link. Note: this I a comprehensive report of the field studies conducted in number 7, “Mechanical Advantage: Oxfam working with RACHANA to modify weeders for women farmers.”
  16. Ergonomical Evaluation of Cono-Weeder with Farm Women
  17. Cono weeder: An economic hand tool for women labour in paddy field
  18. Gender Dimensions of the Adoption of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in Cambodia

Click here to Download PDF of Women Farmers Links

Earth Links has been invited to participate and present at two events this Fall

The “International Rice Conference” in Singapore and the “International Workshop to Enhance Cooperation and Sharing among

SRI National Networks” in Malaysia

The IRC is taking place in Singapore, October 14-17 at the Marina Bay Sands and the Workshop is being held at the The Leverage Business Hotel-Skudai, Johor Bahru, Malaysia on the 18th-19th of October.

A Very Special Thanks to Oxfam for making the SRI Rice booth possible at the IRC
At the IRC Stephen Leinau will making a presentation on “Reducing Injuries and Increasing Yields for Smallholder Women Rice Farmers through Additive Manufacturing and the Design, Modification and Testing of Rotors for use with SRI Weeders” and making a presentation on “The Future Guardians of Rice: Bali, World Heritage, and the Next Generation of Farmers” on behalf of the paper’s four authors; Wiwik Dharmiasih, Micah Fisher, Lucy Fisher and Stephen Leinau.  http://ricecongress2018.irri.org

At the Malaysian meeting as part of the “HIGHLIGHTS OF GLOBAL INITIATIVES” Stephen will be discussing the development of an international SRI Equipment Network.

SRI: Open Source Rice Farming

Photo by Ali Mohammad Ramzi from the Aga Khan Foundation.

Afghani SRI farmers Jawan Shamali and Juma Ghul share their experiences with SRI.

Earth Links is working towards the release of our “Open Source” database and website for small-holder rice farmers in 2018.  With CAD files, free CAD software and easy to share PDFs of well used and tested equipment designs, we want to help facilitate the adoption of the System of Rice Intensification, SRI, in rice growing regions around the world.

A growing number of people are interested in helping resource-limited farmers improve their living conditions and have marveled at the improved yields of the System of Rice Intensification. Using less water and seeds, this method has been adopted in an ever-increasing number of rice-growing communities around the world. SRI’s combination of synergistic practices including: irrigating by alternative wetting and drying, healthy soils, wide plant spacing, and early transplantation helps create higher yields, with less water use and much less seed.  Some institutions and researchers have trouble understanding this “organic growth” – both of the plants and the larger number of farmers using SRI.

It is interesting to consider SRI techniques and its adoption by 10,000,000 small farmers (users) in terms of the movements of the computer age called “open source” (in which computing source code is made freely and openly available to programmers, developers, and users to cooperatively develop and use).  This helps to understand SRI often spreads from farmer to farmer, and how it can change to meet local conditions.  And how the necessary tools, field markers, weeders and harvesters, are adapted to local conditions with locally available materials.


Variations of the rotors for turning weeds under and aerating the soil.

SRI methods have primarily been developed and disseminated outside mainstream agricultural institutions and corporations, do not rely on hybrid/GMO seeds or petrochemical fertilizers, but rather encourage and rely on farmer-led research and experimentation, indigenous knowledge, as well as scientific studies and the assistance and training of agricultural professionals. As Indian researcher Dr. Shambhu Prasad has recently argued,

“SRI shows how a less hierarchical and less linear architecture of innovation has enabled a new ‘knowledge commons’ to emerge in Indian agriculture, contributing substantially to household-level food security, also enabling farmers to cope with vulnerabilities.”


SRI farmers Khidir Hameed and friends in Najaf, Iraq.

This past January, Dr. Prasad spoke at the 13th biennial conference for the International Association for the Study of the Commons in Hyberabad, India, describing the “agroecological innovations” shared through the Internet and other digital social networks by Indian SRI practitioners. Conference attendee and author David Bollier reported on the talk in a recent blog post:

Rather than adopt the farming practices of the conventional market and the knowledge paradigm of the scientific/government establishment, however, the SRI practitioners use indigenous varieties of crops and shun chemical pesticides and fertilizers. The whole enterprise is a vast social network of Internet-mediated participation that is aimed at learning how to eke out better yields on marginal plots of land. Some farmers even learn to “play with the monsoon” and its capricious ways to build soil health. The SRI knowledge commons has scientists, farmers and citizens all talking together on the same platforms, rather than the market-oriented “experts” declaring how agriculture should be pursued.

SRI and open source farming create opportunities and possibilities to address serious global problems. We have the resources of the commons and collective wisdom as tools to respond to these challenges. And there is also a treasure, unacknowledged by some, in the ability of rice and other crops to respond positively to conditions farmers create in the field. They give hope where others only see insufficient resources and insurmountable challenges.

Ms. Im Sarim, Peak Bang Oang Village, Takeo Province, Cambodia, holding an SRI rice plant.

Donate now to help fund SRI training in Latin America!

Posted in Uncategorized

One Road to SRI Mechanization

In favor of using the “brush cutter” weeder in its various forms for mechanization is that it is widely available and relatively inexpensive.  It represents a first step towards mechanization for many small-holder farmers.  It is faster than a manual weeder, and avoids a push and pull motion that many weeders require for thorough weed removal.

In the USA a simple brush cutter with “string trimmer” can be purchased for about 150 USD for the version where the motor is attached directly to the cutter.  The backpack versions are of higher quality and cost approximately 300 USD and up.

The brush cutter has its challenges, but we believe it can be adapted for use as an effective SRI Weeder.  Here are some of the challenges we see:

The high RPM of the rotor makes the machine difficult to control and this forces the user to expend considerable energy guiding the weeder down the rows to avoiding damaging the rice plants.  Slowing the rotor speed would require a new gearbox.   We have not found a commercially available part/gear box to accomplish this.   Although the brush cutter can be used/adapted for multiple rows, control of the weeder remains difficult, and as the rotor/paddles must then be made much larger to go over the rice plants when doing two or more rows.  For With the multi row weeders, the larger rotors/paddles further increasing the tip speed of the rotor.

We know that Japanese versions of a single row covered weeder, that adds a single blade in a cover/sled, are is commercially available that adds a single blade in a cover/sled. The sled can be plastic or metal. This adaptation uses the commonly available “head” that holds “string” for grass and weed cutting.  We have attached plans for two versions of a single blade version that we are working on.  The added cutting blade will need to be modified to get the best possible weed removal and least damage to the plants.  We will test these in the near future at a farm testing site that has just become available to us.

This covered version has the advantage of covering the blade to a certain extent, taking some of the weight off the farmer, as well as providing some stability and tracking for the weeder.  We are looking forward to doing our construction and testing.


Thanks go to Supachai Pitiwu and the Weekend Farmers Network in Thailand for all the considerable testing and videos they have produced on this weeder:

Brush cutter, Backpack version:


Another advantage of this tool is that it can also be adapted to harvesting with an inexpensive conversion.  The safety of this use is unknown?


Japanese equipment site, (in Japanese): http://www.hirakishoji.co.jp/aigamon/index.html

Picture of plastic version  http://www.kaientai.ne.jp/fs/hiraki/ag-001

Picture of metal version  http://www.kaientai.ne.jp/fs/hiraki/tt-001


Prices without motor, in yen, 18,000    $160 USD

Prices with motor, in yen, 59,400           $530 USD

Less expensive versions can be purchased from Chinese Manufacturers.

Posted in Uncategorized