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Abstract

Conservation Agriculture (CA) aims to concurrently promote agricultural productivity, climate resilience and other environmental objectives related to sustainability. The evidence base for CA and other practices of climate-smart agriculture (CSA) in Sub-Saharan Africa is becoming better established. We review this evidence to address whether CA meets CSA objectives and why adoption rates by smallholders remain generally very low. As part of the review, we develop hypotheses for expected CA adoption under different socioeconomic and agro-ecological conditions, and consider promising options for enabling CA to better contribute to the CSA objectives. Our results are largely in agreement with the nascent literature where CA is found to contribute positively to CSA productivity and adaptation/resilience objectives, although the degree of success varies considerably by regional, farm and household characteristics. The evidence is equivocal on the potential for CA to enhance soil carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Overall, we find that capital-intensive (mechanized) CA is more likely to be adopted in areas of economic dynamism where capital is cheap relative to labor. Labor-intensive CA practices are more likely to be adopted in regions of economic stagnation where capital is expensive and labor is abundant and cheap. The climate-smartness of CA can be enhanced in a number of ways: reframing and adapting CA to location-specific economic and biophysical conditions, integrating CA with other CSA practices such as agroforestry, and by increasing the use of complementary productivityenhancing inputs such as inorganic fertilizers and organic manure. Other options to make CA climate-smart include conditional subsidies, market and value chain development to improve farmers’ access to CSA-promoting inputs, linking CA to payments for environmental service schemes (e.g., carbon credits), greater and more effective public spending on research and development to build evidence on the adaptation and mitigation potential of CA, and an improved enabling policy environment for private investment in input and farm commodity markets.

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