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Are all three components of conservation agriculture necessary for soil conservation in the Sudan Savanna?

Ikazaki, Kenta, Nagumo, Fujio, Simporé, Saïdou, Barro, Albert
Soil science and plant nutrition 2018 v.64 no.2 pp. 230-237
Food and Agriculture Organization, Isoptera, Lycosidae, Mucuna pruriens, agricultural conservation practice, agricultural research, biomass, cover crops, cowpeas, crop rotation, disturbed soils, dry season, erosion control, farmers, field experimentation, intercropping, markets, minimum tillage, mulching, pigeon peas, runoff, savannas, soil permeability, stover, water erosion, wet season, Sudan
Conservation agriculture (CA) as recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations consists of three components: minimum soil disturbance, soil cover, and crop rotation/association. CA was expected to become an effective countermeasure against water erosion in the Sudan Savanna, but it has not been adopted by local smallholder farmers. As markets for grain legumes (including cowpea) have not been developed in the Sudan Savanna, crop rotation/association should be considered impractical for these farmers. Therefore, we examined whether legume intercropping as a crop rotation/association component is necessary for preventing soil erosion in the Sudan Savanna. Three-year field experiments were conducted in runoff plots at Institute of Environment and Agricultural Research Saria station. The four treatments were conventional practice (full tillage, no sorghum residue mulching, and no intercropping), two-component CA (minimum tillage (MT) and sorghum residue mulching without intercropping), and three-component CA with velvet bean (VB) or pigeon pea (PP) intercropping. It was revealed that: (1) MT and sorghum residue mulching (without intercropping) effectively reduced the annual soil loss by 54% mainly due to the improvement of soil permeability by the boring of termites and wolf spiders found under the sorghum stover mulch; (2) intercropping in combination with MT and crop residue mulching had no effect on soil erosion control mainly because: (a) PP did not survive the long dry season; (b) VB did not serve effectively as a cover crop since soil loss was concentrated at the beginning of the rainy season when VB was still too small; (c) unexpectedly, in combination with MT and crop residue mulching, intercropping with VB did not increase mulch biomass, especially sorghum biomass which prompts the boring of termites and wolf spiders. These results demonstrate that the third component of CA, namely legume intercropping, is not always necessary; rather, the two remaining components – minimum soil disturbance and soil cover – are sufficient for soil conservation in the Sudan Savanna. This finding lightens the burden of adopting CA and thus facilitates its future promotion to the smallholder farmers in the Sudan Savanna.