Implications of hill farmers' agronomic practices in Nepal for crop improvement in maize
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An agro-ecological analysis of the maize component of an agroforestry system in the eastern mid-hills of Nepal was conducted in 1999. The aim of the study was to understand farmers' current maize cultivation practices as a prerequisite to development of maize varieties that are better adapted to local conditions than the improved varieties currently on offer from conventional maize breeding programmes in Nepal. Practices of 50 smallholder farmers were surveyed in three villages, and the response of the maize crop was recorded. The study revealed great variability in agronomic practices, and in particular, farmers' maize husbandry differed markedly from national recommendations for plant population, agronomic inputs and genotypes used. Farmers regularly employed practices that were not even officially recognised by the national research and extension services, such as thinning of maize for livestock fodder, growing the crop in association with trees for fodder, and relay cropping with finger millet, their priority being to optimize overall output of the farming system rather than maximizing maize productivity. Reasons for deviations from recommended practices are analysed and implications for maize crop improvement for heterogeneous conditions are discussed.
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