Pushing the envelope? Maize production intensification and the role of cattle manure in recovery of degraded soils in smallholder farming areas of Zimbabwe
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Soil fertility decline is a major constraint to crop productivity on smallholder farms in Africa. The objective of this study was to evaluate the long-term (up to nine years) impacts of nutrient management strategies and their local feasibility on crop productivity, soil fertility status and rainfall infiltration on two contrasting soil types and different prior management regimes in Murehwa, Zimbabwe. The nutrient management strategies employed in the study were: a control with no fertiliser, amendments of 100 kg N ha(-1), 100 kg N + lime, three rates of manure application (5,15 and 25 t ha(-1)) in combination with 100 kg N ha(-1), and three rates of P fertiliser (10, 30 and 50 kg P ha(-1)) in combination with 100 kg N, 20 kg Ca, 5 kg Zn and 10 kg Mn ha(-1). Maize grain yields in sandy soils did not respond to the sole application of 100 kg N ha(-1); manure application had immediate and incremental benefits on crop yields on the sandy soils. A combination of 25 t ha(-1) manure and 100 kg N gave the largest treatment yield of 9.3 t ha(-1) on the homefield clay soils, 6.1 t ha(-1) in the clay outfield, 7.6 t ha(-1) in the homefield and 3.4 t ha(-1) in the eighth season. Yields of the largest manure application on the sandy outfields were comparable to yields with 100 kg N in combination with 30 kg P. 20 kg Ca, 5 kg Zn and 10 kg Mn ha(-1) in the homefields suggesting the need to target nutrients differently to different fields. Manure application improved rainfall infiltration in the clay soils from 21 to 31 mm h(-1) but on the sandy soils the manure effect on infiltration was not significant. Despite the large manure applications, crop productivity and SOC build-up in the outfield sandy soils was small highlighting the difficulty to recover the fertility of degraded soils. The major cause of poor crop productivity on the degraded sandy soils despite the large additions of manure could not be ascertained. The current practice of allocating manure and fertiliser to fields closest to homesteads exacerbates land degradation in the sandy outfields and increases soil fertility gradients but results in the most harvest for the farm. On clay soils, manure may be targeted to outfields and mineral fertiliser to homefields to increase total crop productivity. Farmers who owned cattle in the study site can achieve high manure application rates on small plots, and manure application can be rotated according to crop sequences. Consistent application of manure in combination with mineral fertilisers can be an effective option to improve crop yield. SOC and moisture conservation under smallholder farming conditions. Combined manure and mineral fertiliser application can be adapted locally as a feasible entry point for ecological intensification in mixed crop-livestock systems. (C) 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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