Unravelling the causes of variability in crop yields and treatment responses for better tailoring of options for sustainable intensification in southern Mali

Falconnier, G N and Descheemaeker, K and Mourik, T A V and Giller, K E (2016) Unravelling the causes of variability in crop yields and treatment responses for better tailoring of options for sustainable intensification in southern Mali. Field Crops Research, 187. pp. 113-126. ISSN 03784290

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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 5.24 t ha−1, sorghum from 0 to 3.53 t ha−1, groundnut from 0.10 to 1.16 t ha−1, soyabean from 0 to 2.48 t ha−1 and cowpea from 0 to 1.02 t ha−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 1.38 t ha−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.

Item Type: Article
Divisions: Research Program : West & Central Africa
Uncontrolled Keywords: Intercropping; Cereals; Legumes; Soil type; Rotation
Subjects: Others > Crop Yield
Depositing User: Mr Ramesh K
Date Deposited: 06 Jan 2017 13:58
Last Modified: 06 Jan 2017 14:00
URI: http://oar.icrisat.org/id/eprint/9826
Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fcr.2015.12.015
Acknowledgement: We thank the McKnight Foundation for funding through the project “Pathways to Agro-ecological Intensification of Sorghum and Millet Cropping Systems of Southern Mali” and also the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems. We thank Joost van Heer-waarden for advice on statistical analysis and Alice Lame for her valuable contribution to data analysis. We are grateful to farm-ers of M’Peresso, Nampossela, Nitabougouro, N’Goukan, Finkoloni,Kani, Karangasso, Koumbri and Try for their availability and willing-ness to participate in the on-farm trials. We thank the Association Malienne d’Eveil au Développement Durable (AMEDD), Ousmane Dembele, Michel Sagara, Bakary Dao, Moumine Toure, AbdoulayeDembele, Soungalo Bware and several trainees who assisted in data collection.

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