Indigenous legume fallows (indifallows) as an alternative soil fertility resource in smallholder maize cropping systems uri icon

abstract

  • Widening the range of organic nutrient resources, especially N sources, is a major challenge for improving crop productivity of smallholder farms in southern Africa. A study was conducted over three seasons to evaluate different species of indigenous legumes for their biomass productivity, N-2-fixation and residual effects on subsequent maize crops on nutrient-depleted fields belonging to smallholder farmers under contrasting rainfall zones in Zimbabwe. Under high rainfall (>800 mm yr(-1)), 1-year indigenous legume fallows (indifallows), comprising mostly species of the genera Crotalaria, Indigofera and Tephrosia, yielded 8.6 t ha(-1) of biomass within 6 months, out-performing sunnhemp (Crotalaria juncea L.) green manure and grass (natural) fallows by 41% and 74%, respectively. A similar trend was observed under medium (650-750 mm yr(-1)) rainfall in Chinyika, where the indifallow attained a biomass yield of 6.6 t ha(-1) compared with 2.2 t ha(-1) for natural fallows. Cumulatively, over two growing seasons, the indifallow treatment under high rainfall at Domboshawa produced biomass as high as 28 t ha(-1) compared with similar to 7 t ha(-1) under natural fallow. The mean total N-2 fixed under indifallows ranged from 125 kg ha(-1) under soils exhibiting severe nutrient depletion in Chikwaka, to 205 kg ha(-1) at Domboshawa. Indifallow biomass accumulated up to 210 kg N ha(-1), eleven-fold higher than the N contained in corresponding natural fallow biomass at time of incorporation. Application of P to indifallows significantly increased both biomass productivity and N-2-fixation, translating into positive yield responses by subsequent maize. Differences in maize biomass productivity between indifallow and natural fallow treatments were already apparent at 2 weeks after maize emergence, with the former yielding significantly (P < 0.05) more maize biomass than the latter. The first maize crop following termination of 1-year indifallows yielded grain averaging 2.3 t ha(-1), significantly out-yielding 1-year natural fallows by >1 t ha(-1). In the second season, maize yields were consistently better under indifallows compared with natural fallows in terms of both grain and total biomass. The first maize crop following 2-year indifallows yielded similar to 3 t ha(-1) of grain, significantly higher than the second maize crop after 1-year indifallows and natural fallows. The study demonstrated that indigenous legumes can generate N-rich biomass in sufficient quantities to make a significant influence on maize productivity for more than a single season. Maize yield gains under indifallow systems on low fertility sandy soils exceeded the yields attained with either mineral fertilizer alone or traditional green manure crop of sunnhemp. (C) 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

publication date

  • 2010
  • 2010