Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 255–268 | Cite as

A climate for commerce: the political agronomy of conservation agriculture in Zambia

  • Ola Tveitereid WestengenEmail author
  • Progress Nyanga
  • Douty Chibamba
  • Monica Guillen-Royo
  • Dan Banik


The promotion of conservation agriculture (CA) for smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa is subject to ongoing scholarly and public debate regarding the evidence-base and the agenda-setting power of involved stakeholders. We undertake a political analysis of CA in Zambia that combines a qualitative case study of a flagship CA initiative with a quantitative analysis of a nationally representative dataset on agricultural practices. This analysis moves from an investigation of the knowledge politics to a study of how the political agendas of the actors involved are shaping agrarian practices. From its initial focus on CA as soil conservation and sustainable agriculture, the framing of the initiative has evolved to accommodate shifting trends in the policy arena. In tandem with the increased focus on climate adaptation, we see an increased emphasis on private sector-led modernisation. The initiative has shifted its target group from the poorest smallholders to prospective commercial farmers, and has forged connections between its farmer-to-farmer extension network and private input suppliers and service providers. The link between CA and input intensification is reflected in national statistics as a significantly higher usage of herbicides, pesticides and mineral fertilizer on fields under CA tillage compared to other fields. We argue that the environmental and participation agendas are used to buttress CA as an environmentally and socially sustainable agricultural development strategy, while the prevailing practice is the result of a common vision for a private sector-led agricultural development shared between the implementing organisation, the donor and international organisations promoting a new green revolution in Africa.


Conservation agriculture Climate smart agriculture Green revolution Political agronomy Norway Zambia 



Conservation agriculture


Conservation Agriculture Programme


Conservation Farming Unit


Climate smart agriculture


Department for International Development


The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations


New Partnership for Africa’s Development


Non-governmental organisation


Norwegian Agency of Development Cooperation


Rural Agricultural Livelihoods Survey


Structural Adjustment Programme


Sub-Saharan Africa


Zambia National Farmers’ Union



This research is funded by the Research Council of Norway. The authors are grateful to T.S. Jayne and Margaret Beaver at Michigan State University and Anthony Chapoto at Indaba Agriculture Research Institute (IAPRI) for providing access to the RALS12 data. We thank Olaf Erenstein at CIMMYT for providing helpful comments on uptake figures and to Pål Vedeld, Tor A. Benjaminsen and three anonymous reviewers for incisive and useful comments to earlier versions of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ola Tveitereid Westengen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Progress Nyanga
    • 2
  • Douty Chibamba
    • 2
  • Monica Guillen-Royo
    • 3
  • Dan Banik
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of International Environment and Development Studies (Noragric)Norwegian University of Life SciencesÅsNorway
  2. 2.Geography and Environmental Studies Department, School of Natural SciencesUniversity of ZambiaLusakaZambia
  3. 3.Centre for Technology, Innovation and CultureUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  4. 4.Centre for Development and the EnvironmentUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

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