Abstract: A two-year study was conducted to assess how mulch influences weed dynamics following imposition of different fertilization treatments under three crop establishment options: (i) conventional; (ii) ripping; and (iii) basin, in a two-year maize-legume rotation. Eight treatments were imposed within each crop establishment option and received maize stover mulch applied at 0% or 30% cover before planting maize (Zea mays) or cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) as test crops. Maize received nitrogen (N) at 35, 90, or 120 kg·ha−1 and phosphorus (P) at 14 or 26 kg·ha−1 applied alone or in combination with 4 or 7 t cattle manure·ha−1, while cowpea received 8 or 17 N·kg·ha−1 and similar P rates to maize. Results indicated that both weed biomass and diversity were influenced more by fertilization than method of crop establishment. On treatments under high fertilizer application rates, or previously planted to cowpea weed biomass ranged between 220 and 400 g·m−2 under mulch and 370–510 g·m−2 (no mulch). Here species richness ranged between 7–16 and was dominated by dicotyledons. This was in contrast to biomass ranges of 75–200 g·m−2 in the low fertilized and control plots, where only one or two grass types dominated. Overall, weed densities were 6% to 51% higher under conventional tillage compared to the two conservation agriculture (CA) options, although the data indicated that mulch significantly (p < 0.05) depressed weed density by up to 70%. We concluded that mulching could be a potential mechanism for reducing weeding labor costs for smallholders and the general environmental and health concerns associated with the use of herbicides in CA systems.
Abstract: Chemical modifications of clay to remove methylene blue (MB) from aqueous solutions at room temperature were compared. Natural bentonite (NC) was modified by cation exchange with hexadecyltrimethylammonium chloride (HC), bencyltriethylammonium chloride (BC), and tetramethylammonium chloride (TC) to reverse the surface polarity of the hydrophilic bentonite. The adsorption of MB was studied and fitted by the adsorption theories of Langmuir, Freundlich, Dubinin-Radushkevich, and Temkin. Equilibrium parameters were calculated, indicating that chemical modification did not improve the adsorption, due to the electrostatic adsorption mechanism. Specific surface area was determined, reporting the following trend: NC > TC > BC > HC. Isotherms show that TC is the best modified clay for the adsorption of MB with a capacity of 217 mg/g. Adsorbents were characterized by SEM and the determination of their point zero charge, indicating a charge reversal at pH 9.5 and a heterogeneous surface that is optimum for the adsorption of molecules and ions onto their surfaces.
Abstract: Soil microbial communities perform critical functions in ecosystem processes. These functions can be used to assess the impact of agricultural practices on sustainable crop production. In this five-year study, the effect of various agricultural practices on soil microbial diversity and activity was investigated in a summer rainfall area under South African dryland conditions. Microbial diversity and activity were measured in the 0–15 cm layer of a field trial consisting of two fertilizer levels, three cropping systems, and two tillage systems. Using the Shannon–Weaver and Evenness diversity indices, soil microbial species richness and abundance were measured. Microbial enzymatic activities: β-glucosidase, phosphatase and urease, were used to evaluate ecosystem functioning. Cluster analysis revealed a shift in soil microbial community diversity and activity over time. Microbial diversity and activity were higher under no-till than conventional tillage. Fertilizer levels seemed to play a minor role in determining microbial diversity and activity, whereas the cropping systems played a more important role in determining the activity of soil microbial communities. Conservation agriculture yielded the highest soil microbial diversity and activity in diversified cropping systems under no-till.
Abstract: Since the paper by Giller et al. (2009), the debate surrounding the suitability of conservation agriculture (CA) for African smallholders has remained polarized between proponents and opponents. The debate also gave rise to a few studies that attempted to identify the “niche” where CA would fit in the region, but the insight offered by these studies has been limited. In this paper, we first analyze the rationale of adoption where it occurred globally to define “drivers” of adoption. Our analysis suggests that CA has first and foremost been adopted under the premises of being energy-saving (time and/or power), erosion-controlling, and water-use efficient, but rarely to increase yield. We then define the niche where CA fits, based on these drivers of adoption, as systems where (1) the energy available for crop establishment is limited and/or costly (including labor and draft power); (2) delayed planting results in a significant yield decline; (3) yield is limited or co-limited by water; and/or (4) severe erosion problems threaten the short- to medium-term productivity of farmland. In Eastern and Southern Africa, this niche appears rather large and likely to expand in the near future. When implemented within this niche, CA may still be limited by “performance challenges” that do not constitute drivers or barriers to adoption, but limitations to the performance of CA. We argue that most of these performance challenges can (and should) be addressed by agronomic and socio-economic research, and provide four examples where the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and its partners have been successfully alleviating four very different challenges through research and development (R&D) in Eastern and Southern Africa. Finally, we describe an iterative and multi-scale R&D approach currently used by CIMMYT in Eastern and Southern Africa to overcome challenges associated with the implementation of CA by African smallholders. This approach could also be useful for other complex combinations of technologies aiming at sustainable intensification.
Abstract: A long-term study was carried out in the Zidyana Extension Planning Area (EPA), Malawi and in the Zimuto Communal Area, Zimbabwe, to evaluate the effect of different conservation agriculture (CA) systems on crop productivity, soil quality and economic performance. Maize productivity results from Zidyana showed that CA systems out-yielded the conventional system in seven out of nine cropping seasons. Labour savings relative to the conventional control ranged from 34–42 labour days ha−1 due to reduced time needed to make manual ridges and for weed control, leading to higher net benefits of 193–444 USD·ha−1. In Zimuto, yield benefits were apparent from the second season onwards and there was a much clearer trend of increased yields of CA over time. Greater net benefits (in USD·ha−1) were achieved on CA systems in Zimuto compared with conventional control treatments due to overall higher yields from CA systems. In Zimuto, both increased infiltration and a gradual increase in soil carbon were recorded, which may have contributed to the greater yield response of CA in this area. In Zidyana, yield increases were attributed primarily to enhanced water infiltration since no increases in soil carbon levels were measured. Farmers highlighted critical challenges to the adoption of CA. These will have to be addressed in future research and extension to provide effective solutions to farmers.