Conservation Agriculture and Soil Organic Carbon: Principles, Processes, Practices and Policy Options

Francaviglia, Rosa
Almagro, María
Vicente-Vicente, José Luis
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Intensive agriculture causes land degradation and other environmental problems, such as pollution, soil erosion, fertility loss, biodiversity decline, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which exacerbate climate change. Sustainable agricultural practices, such as reduced tillage, growing cover crops, and implementing crop residue retention measures, have been proposed as cost-effective solutions that can address land degradation, food security, and climate change mitigation and adaptation by enhancing soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration in soils and its associated co-benefits. In this regard, extensive research has demonstrated that conservation agriculture (CA) improves soil physical, chemical, and biological properties that are crucial for maintaining soil health and increasing agroecosystem resilience to global change. However, despite the research that has been undertaken to implement the three principles of CA (minimum mechanical soil disturbance, permanent soil organic cover with crop residues and/or cover crops, and crop diversification) worldwide, there are still many technical and socio-economic barriers that restrict their adoption. In this review, we gather current knowledge on the potential agronomic, environmental, and socio-economic benefits and drawbacks of implementing CA principles and present the current agro-environmental policy frameworks. Research needs are identified, and more stringent policy measures are urgently encouraged to achieve climate change mitigation targets.
Acknowledgments: María Almagro acknowledges the financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities through the “Ramón y Cajal” Program (RYC2020-029181-I). © 2023 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license ( The Version of Scholarly Record of this Article is published in Soil Systems, 2023, available online at: . Keywords: reduced tillage; permanent soil cover; crop diversification; soil and water conservation; ecosystem services; carbon sequestration; climate change mitigation and adaptation; adoption barriers; economic incentives; agro-environmental policies.
Francaviglia, R.; Almagro, M.; Vicente-Vicente, J.L. Conservation Agriculture and Soil Organic Carbon: Principles, Processes, Practices and Policy Options. Soil Syst. 2023, 7, 17. soilsystems7010017