Fallow management for soil fertility recovery in tropical Andean agroecosystems in Colombia uri icon

abstract

  • Andean hillsides dominate the landscape of a considerable proportion of Cauca Department in Colombia. The typical cropping cycle in the region includes monocrops or intercrops of maize (Zea mays L.), beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) and/or cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz). Cassava is usually the last crop before local farmers leave plots to natural fallow until soil fertility is recovered and a new cropping phase can be initiated. Previous studies on land use in the Rio Cabuyal watershed (6500 ha) show that a considerable proportion of land (about 25-30%) remains under natural fallow every year. The focus of our studies is on systems of accelerated regeneration of soil fertility, or improved fallow systems, as an alternative to the natural regeneration by the native flora. Fallow improvement studies were conducted on plots following cassava cultivation. The potential for soil fertility recovery after 12 and 28 months was evaluated with two fast growing trees, Calliandra calothyrsus Meissn (CAL) and Indigofera constricta L.(IND), and one shrub, Tithonia diversifolia (Hemsl.) Gray (TTH), as slash/mulch fallow systems compared to the natural fallow (NAT). All planted slash/mulch fallow systems produced greater biomass than the natural fallow. Greatest dry biomass (16.4 Mg ha(-1) year(-1)) was produced by TTH. Other planted fallows (CAL and IND) produced about 40% less biomass than TTH and the control (NAT) about 75% less. Nutrient levels in the biomass were especially high for TTH, followed by IND, CAL, and NAT. The impact of fallow management on soil chemical, physical and biological parameters related to residual soil fertility during the cropping phase was evaluated. Soil parameters most affected by slash/mulch fallow systems included soil total N, available N (ammonium and nitrate), exchangeable cations (K, Ca, Mg and Al), amount of Pin light fraction, soil bulk density and air permeability, and soil macrofauna diversity. Results from field studies suggest that the Tithonia slash/mulch fallow system could be the best option to regenerate soil fertility of degraded volcanic-ash soils of the Andean hillsides. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

publication date

  • 2005
  • 2005