NUANCES and NUISANCES Crop production intensification options for smallholder farming systems of southern Africa.

Submitted by marcel.lubbers on Thu, 12/12/2013 - 15:31
Soil fertility decline, erratic rainfall, crop productivity, smallholder farms, southern Africa
Leonard Rusinamhodzi
Prof. dr. K.E. Giller
Dr. ir. M. Corbeels
Southern Africa

Soil fertility decline and erratic rainfall are major constraints to crop productivity on

smallholder farms in southern Africa. Crop production intensification along with efficient use

of chemical fertiliser is required to produce more food per unit area of land, while rebuilding

soil fertility. The objective of this thesis was to identify appropriate crop production

intensification options that are suitable to the socio-economic and biophysical conditions of

selected smallholder maize-based farming systems in southern Africa. Three sites that formed

a gradient of intensity of crop and livestock production were selected for the study. Murehwa in

Zimbabwe is characterised by the largest intensity followed by Ruaca and lastly Vunduzi both

in central Mozambique. In all three sites, maize is a key staple and cash crop. A literature

review, field methods based on participatory research, and modelling tools were combined in

analysing potential crop production options across an agricultural intensification gradient. A

meta-analysis on maize grain yield under rain-fed conditions revealed that conservation

agriculture required legume rotations and high nitrogen input use especially in the early

years. Reduced tillage without mulch cover leads to lower yields than with conventional

agriculture in low rainfall environments. Mulch cover in high rainfall areas leads to smaller

yields than conventional tillage due to waterlogging, and improved yields under CA are likely

on well drained soils. Crop productivity under conservation agriculture depends on the ability

of farmers to achieve correct fertiliser application, timely weeding, and the availability of

crop residues for mulching and systematic crop rotations which are currently lacking in

southern Africa. An additive design of within-row intercropping was compared to a

substitutive design with distinct alternating rows of maize and legume (local practice) under

no-till in the Ruaca and Vunduzi communities of central Mozambique. Intercropping

increased productivity compared to the corresponding sole crops with land equivalent ratios

(LER) of between 1.0 and 2.4. Maize yield loss was only 6-8% in within-row intercropping...