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Can an incremental approach be a better option in the dissemination of conservation agriculture? Some socioeconomic justifications from the dry lands of Morocco

Despite several efforts for its dissemination, adoption of conservation agriculture (CA) in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is low – causing some to wonder if an incremental approach for adoption of its three components would prove more effective. In this paper, we apply the endogenous switching regression model to a nationally representative sample of 1901 wheat fields in Morocco to analyze the impacts of partial or full adoption of all three components of the CA system. We also employ an ordered probit model to identify the determinants of partial and full adoption of CA. Model results show that adoption of the complete CA system leads to 307 kg/ha (35 %) higher yields, US$99/ha (44 %) higher gross margins, and 23 kg/capita/year (38 %) more consumption of wheat relative to the conventional system. Our results also show that adoption of only two principles of the CA system leads to higher benefits in all the livelihood indicators listed above compared to adoption of only one or none of the principles. Likewise, adoption of only one principle is more beneficial than the conventional system. Along with biophysical and environmental benefits documented elsewhere, our results demonstrate that the CA system can provide large economic, social, and food security benefits both at individual household and national levels. Therefore, wider diffusion of the full CA system involving zero tillage (ZT), crop rotation, and crop residue retention has potential to sustainably improve the viability of agriculture in the drylands of Morocco and other similar countries in the MENA region. Given that the CA system is complex and knowledge-intensive, transition from the conventional system to CA requires the following: (1) flexibility to let farmers incrementally adopt one or more of the CA components, learn at their own pace, use some of the benefits, and improve it over time to exploit the full potential of the CA system with close follow-up and technical support from experts and extension specialists; and (2) sustained policy and institutional supports that provide incentives for farmers to adopt and for the private sector to be actively involved, especially in service provision.