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Degrading uplands in the rainforest region of Madagascar: Fallow biomass, nutrient stocks, and soil nutrient availability

Styger, Erika, Fernandes, Erick C. M., Rakotondramasy, Harivelo M., Rajaobelinirina, Eric
Agroforestry systems 2009 v.77 no.2 pp. 107-122
highlands, montane forests, fallow, soil fertility, shifting cultivation, temporal variation, frequency, gas emissions, greenhouse gases, forest soils, Trema, Psiadia, Rubus moluccanus, Imperata cylindrica, dry matter accumulation, shrubs, nutrient uptake, asexual reproduction, biogeochemical cycles, cropping systems, land use, tropical rain forests, Madagascar
Soil fertility restoration depends on natural fallows in the slash-and-burn system of eastern Madagascar. In the Beforona-Vohidrazana study zone, none of the fallow species are able to withstand the slashing, burning and cropping frequencies of 3-5 years. Eventually soils are abandoned for agriculture. Along the degradation sequence, this study quantifies fallow biomass, nutrient stocks and soil nutrient availability of four dominant fallow species Trema orientalis, Psiadia altissima, Rubus moluccanus, and Imperata cylindrica. At 3 years, the shrubs Psiadia and Rubus were more productive (11-14.4 t/ha aboveground biomass or AGB) than the tree species Trema (8.5 t/ha). Only after 5 years did tree productivity (24.7 t/ha) exceed that of shrubs (17-20 t/ha). Imperata's biomass stagnated at 5.5 t/ha after 3 years. A sharp decline in fallow productivity was observed with advancing fallow cycles after deforestation. While Psiadia produced highest AGB in the second fallow cycle (C2) being 100%, C1 achieved 89% of that, C3 74%, and C4 only 29%. With the ability to propagate vegetatively and to accumulate important amounts of nutrients in roots, Rubus and Imperata, both exotic and invasive species, showed improved adaptation mechanisms towards frequent disturbances compared to the two indigenous species Trema and Psiadia. Available soil nutrients P, K, Mg were highest under forest and declined rapidly with increasing fallow cycles. Ca and pH rose momentarily in the first fallow cycle before declining with advanced soil use. Al concentrations increased steadily with time. As lengthened fallow periods are not practical, there is a need to intensify upland systems based on improved nutrient cycling, targeted inputs, fire-less land management, and land use diversification. Allowing regrading tree and bush fallows to accumulate biomass (above- and belowground carbon) will significantly improve Madagascar's greenhouse gas mitigation contribution.