Long-term effects of fallow systems and lengths on crop production and soil fertility maintenance in West Africa uri icon

abstract

  • In the development of short fallow systems as alternatives to shifting cultivation in West Africa, a long-term trial was established at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) on an Alfisol in the forest-savanna transitional zone of southwestern Nigeria, comparing three fallow systems; natural regrowth fallow, cover crop fallow and alley cropping on soil productivity and crop yield sustainability. The natural fallow system consisted of natural regrowth of mainly Chromolaena odorata shrub as fallow vegetation. The cover crop fallow system consisted of Pueraria phaseoloides, a herbaceous legume as fallow vegetation. The alley cropping system consisted of woody hedgerows of Leucaena leucocephala as fallow vegetation. The fallow lengths were 0 (continuous cropping), 1, 2 and 3 years after 1 year of maize/cassava intercropping. Biomass produced from natural fallow and cover crop fallow was burnt during the land preparation. Fertilizer was not applied throughout the study. Without fertilizer application, maize yield declined from above 3.0 t ha(-1) to below 0.5 t ha(-1) during 12 years of cultivation (1989-2000) on a land cleared from a 23-year old secondary forest. Temporal change in cassava tuber yield was erratic. Mean maize grain yields from 1993-2000 except for 1999 were higher in cover crop fallow system (1.89 t ha(-1)) than in natural fallow system (1.73 t ha(-1)), while natural fallow system outperformed alley cropping system (1.46 t ha(-1)). During the above 7 years, mean cassava tuber yield in cover crop system (7.7 t ha(-1)) did not differ from natural fallow system (8.2 t ha(-1)), and both systems showed higher cassava tuber than the alley cropping system (5.7 t ha(-1)). The positive effect of fallowing on crop yields was observed for both crops in the three systems, however, insignificant effects were seen when fallow length exceeded 1 year for cover crop and alley cropping, and 2 years for natural fallow. Soil pH, organic carbon, available P and exchangeable Ca, Mg and K decreased considerably after 12 years of cultivation, even in a 3-year fallow subplot. After 12 years, soil organic carbon (SOC) within 0-5 cm depth in alley cropping (13.9 g kg(-1)) and natural fallow (13.7 g kg(-1)) was higher than in cover crop fallow (11.6 g kg(-1)). Whereas significant increase in SOC with either natural fallow or alley cropping was observed only after 2 or 3 years of fallow, the SOC in the 1-year fallow alley cropping subplot was higher than that in continuous cropping natural fallow subplot. It can be concluded from our study that in transforming shifting cultivation to a permanent cropping, fallow with natural vegetation (natural fallow), herbaceous legumes (cover crop fallow) and woody legumes (alley cropping) can contribute to the maintenance of crop production and soil fertility, however, length of fallow period does not need to exceed 2 years. When the fallow length is reduced to 1 year, a better alternative to natural regrowth fallow would be the cover crop for higher maize yield and alley cropping for higher soil organic matter. For fallow length of 2 years, West African farmers would be better off with the natural fallow system.

publication date

  • 2005
  • 2005