Short fallows of Tithonia diversifolia and Crotalaria grahamiana for soil fertility improvement in western Kenya

B. Thor Smestad; H. Tiessen; R.J. Buresh
June 2002
Agroforestry Systems;2002, Vol. 55 Issue 3, p181
Academic Journal
Managed short-duration fallows may have the potential to replace longer fallows in regions where population density no longer permits slow natural fallow successions. The purpose of fallows is not only to improve subsequent crop performance but also to restore soil fertility and organic matter content for the long term. We therefore evaluated the soil organic matter and nutrient flows and fractions in a short fallow experiment managed in the western Kenya highlands, and also compared the experimental area with a 9–12-yr-old adjacent natural bush fallow. The factorial agroforestry field experiment with four land-use and two P fertilizer treatments on a Kandiudalfic Eutrudox showed that 31-wk managed fallows with Tithonia diversifolia (Hemsley) A. Gray and Crotalaria grahamiana Wight & Arn. improved soil fertility and organic matter content above those of a natural weed fallow and continuous maize (Zea mays L.). Post-fallow maize yields were also improved, although cumulative three-season increases in yield were small (0–1.2 Mg ha−1 ) when the yield foregone during the fallow season was accounted for. Improvements in yield and soil quality could be traced to quantity or quality of biomass recycled by the managed fallows. The non-woody recycled biomass produced by the continuous maize, weed fallow, and tithonia treatments was near 2 Mg ha−1 , whereas crotalaria produced three times more recyclable biomass and associated N and P. Increases in topsoil N due to the fallows may have been attributable in part to deep acquisition and recycling of N by the fallows. Particulate macro-organic matter produced by the fallows contained sufficient N (30–50 kg ha−1 ) to contribute substantially to maize production. Organic P accumulation (29 kg ha−1 ) similarly may play a significant role in crop nutrition upon subsequent mineralization. The effect of the P fertilizer application on soil properties and maize yield was constant for all land-use systems (i.e., no land-use system × P fertilizer interactions occurred). There was an indication that tithonia may have stimulated infestation of Striga hermonthica (Del.) Benth., and care must be taken to evaluate the full effects of managed fallows over several seasons.


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