|Title||Unravelling the causes of variability in crop yields and treatment responses for better tailoring of options for sustainable intensification in southern Mali|
|Author(s)||Falconnier, G.N.; Descheemaeker, Katrien; Mourik, T.A. Van; Giller, K.E.|
|Source||Field Crops Research 187 (2016). - ISSN 0378-4290 - p. 113 - 126.|
Plant Production Systems
|Publication type||Refereed Article in a scientific journal|
|Keyword(s)||Cereals - Intercropping - Legumes - Rotation - Soil type|
Options that contribute to sustainable intensification offer an avenue to improve crop yields and farmers' livelihoods. However, insufficient knowledge on the performance of various options in the context of smallholder farm systems impedes local adaptation and adoption. Therefore, together with farmers in southern Mali we tested a range of options for sustainable intensification including intensification of cereal (maize and sorghum) and legume (groundnut, soyabean and cowpea) sole crops and cereal-legume intercropping during three years on on-farm trials. There was huge variability among fields in crop yields of unamended control plots: maize yielded from 0.20 to 5.24tha-1, sorghum from 0 to 3.53tha-1, groundnut from 0.10 to 1.16tha-1, soyabean from 0 to 2.48tha-1 and cowpea from 0 to 1.02tha-1. This variability was partly explained by (i) soil type and water holding capacity, (ii) previous crop, its management and the nutrient carry-over and (iii) inter-annual weather variability. Farmers recognized three soil types: gravelly soils, sandy soils and black soils. Yields were very poor on gravelly soils and two to three times greater (depending on the crop) on black soils. Yields were also poor at the end of the typical crop rotation, i.e., after sorghum and millet, and 1.3-1.7 times greater (depending on the crop) after the fertilized crops maize and cotton. We diagnosed a number of cases of technology failure where no improvement in yield was observed with hybrid varieties of maize and sorghum and rhizobial inoculation of soyabean. Regardless of soil type and previous crop, mineral fertilizer improved yields by 34-126% depending on the crop. Targeting options to a given soil type and/or place in the rotation enhanced their agronomic performance: (i) the biomass production of the cowpea fodder variety was doubled on black soils compared with gravelly soils, (ii) the additive maize/cowpea intercropping option after cotton or maize resulted in an average overall LER of 1.47, no maize grain penalty, and 1.38tha-1 more cowpea fodder production compared with sole maize. Soil type and position in the rotation, two indicators easy to assess by farmers and extension workers, allowed the identification of specific niches for enhanced agronomic performance of legume sole cropping and/or intercropping.