Documenting Adoption of Conservation Agriculture in the Indo-Gangetic Plains

This study evaluates the adoption of conservation agriculture within the intensive rice-wheat cropping systems of the Indo-Gangetic Plains.


The concept of conservation agriculture (CA) was born in the 1930’s when Edward Faulkner first questioned the utility of ploughing in a manuscript called ‘Ploughman’s Folly’, and gained popularity during the 1960’s in the mid-western United States as a means of preventing soil degradation. Research efforts of the CGIAR have since been instrumental in adapting CA practices to cropping systems found across the developing world.
The objective of the study is to rigorously evaluate the adoption of conservation agriculture within the intensive rice-wheat cropping systems of the Indo-Gangetic Plains. 


This study compiled the first robust and regionally representative estimates of adoption of CA across the Indo-Gangetic Plains of India. These estimates are the result of leveraging remote sensing technology to provide area-wide estimates, and validating these using a large-scale household survey across the Indo-Gangetic Plains.


Awareness is a considerable barrier to adoption of a technological change. Exposure to a novel practice has been shown to significantly increase awareness and adoption of agricultural technology. Across the entire sample, the study observed low levels of awareness for these methods with on average only 19% of participants responding positively to knowing of these practices. Examining the profiles of adopters, the study finds that on average, adopters are significantly richer than non-adopters with the difference in total value of assets being more than INR 470,000 and owning more than double the land area. Adopters also cultivate a significantly higher land area under rice-wheat cropping system compared to non-adopters. 


While only a small region overlaps between the household survey and the remote sensing, both methods find similar rates of adoption of zero-tillage for this area. This shows that both these methods are indeed capable of detecting zero-tillage practices in the Indo-Gangetic Plains and help in validating each other. However, the remote sensing methodology assumes that the environmental conditions as well as farming practices are identical in the entire region which is being classified. The results from this study seem to show that this assumption was not met, as unreasonably high ZT adoption rates were observed for regions outside of the ground truth data collection areas. Thus, more efforts for ground truth data are required if this approach is to be applied to larger areas.

Thematic Area

Institutions and Society

Project Leads

Andre Butler, Camille Boudot, Anil Bhargava, Urs Schulthess


Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar