Manual Soil Management of Smallholder Agriculture

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The up-slope terrace approach was used by Business for Development in our cotton program in Kwale, Kenya. None of the farmers in our program who adopted up-slope terrace technology experienced adverse impacts from drought, with the reserves of water and nutrients allowing them to produce substantial yields. Maintenance of the soil structure is critical in producing healthy crops. In areas where furrow irrigation is practiced for crop production, the use of grass strips along certain contours on irrigated can help preserve soils. Vetiver grass, planted continuously on the contours, produces narrow dense hedges; this slows surface runoff, and gives water time to soak into the soil.

Runoff soil from upslope is deposited and spread upwards from the hedge, keeping the site fertile. Through digging small ditches on the contour lines of an incline and planting water-loving plants at regular intervals within them, water can be conserved in a farm for use through seepage and drainage. In Mozambique, we used shallow retention ditches to maximise land resource use. The ditch stopped excess runoff while also serving as a site to establish banana orchards.

Soil Management of Smallholder Agriculture

Through also planting grass on the ridges, the farmers we worked with were given access to a reliable source of vegetation to thatch their homes with. All the above techniques can also help smallholders improve their resilience to environmental shocks. Earlier this year, Mozambique faced two devastating tropical cyclones; thanks to these soil management techniques, farmers we worked with could capture water from the storms for future use, all while preserving their topsoils.

In the coming years, as we face climate change and continued land degradation, farmers will need access to credible information about soil and how to manage it. Yields under irrigation can improve when micronutrients are blended with macronutrients in relatively affordable blends. Use of green manure as an alternative fertilizer can also improve yields. Soil and water management technologies that improve soil fertility and productivity were as important as those that prevent soil erosion and water loss. It was recommended that practices such as supplementary irrigation and rainwater harvesting technologies take priority in efforts to address dryland water problems.

As for farmers with access to irrigation water, practices that deal with improvement in planting dates and populations and water and fertilizer management can have positive impacts on crop yields.

SLM 12 Conservation Agriculture

Research focused on smallholder agriculture should also start focusing more on water productivity and improving agronomic practices. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the creative commons attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. South Africa is currently facing one of the worst droughts in history. South African agriculture is dualistic in nature, consisting of the less developed smallholder sector and a well-developed commercial sector.

The number of commercial farmers is estimated at between 50, and 60, The large-scale commercial sector, consisting of mostly white farmers, provide food for the whole nation while the smallholder farmers are characterized by the overwhelming large number of the rural population who play an insignificant role in national food production. Oettle et al. Armour 5 reported that there are 3. A report produced by World Wide Fund-SA 6 pointed out that a decline in commercial farming is attributed to decreased productivity and drought. Smallholder agriculture plays an important role in terms of food security, employment creation and income generation in many countries.

South Africa has incorporated smallholder agriculture into various support and development programs of both the public and private sectors to ensure viability and sustainability in farming practices. The aims of the smallholder agricultural development programs in South Africa include increasing crop productivity, enhancing sustainable resource use and facilitating economic growth in rural communities The government has created several support programs to improve agricultural productivity of smallholders in rural areas.

However, as Hart 4 pointed out, some of these programs have tended to make matters worse than improve them. Despite government efforts, poverty is still pervasive in rural areas, particularly in the former homelands where smallholder farmers are the majority. Problems of unemployment, low income levels and food insecurity continue to be a challenge for the government. Alleviating food insecurity therefore requires more effort to be directed towards developing smallholder agriculture. In contrast to the international scene where irrigated agriculture is recommended as an appropriate way of addressing rural poverty and unemployment in areas where sustained dryland production of crops is limited by water deficit s 12 , smallholder irrigation schemes in South Africa have not performed optimally to achieve the desired goal of increased crop productivity.

Currently there are smallholder irrigation schemes with still operational and the remainder non-operational Researchers in smallholder irrigation schemes have found that much of the schemes are operating below their potential 13 - An analysis of yields of main crops grown under irrigation in the Eastern Cape indicated that large gaps existed between yields achieved by farmers and those achieved with good management The fact that the yields from on-farm experiments were comparable to commercial yields suggests that other factors were responsible for the low crop productivity experienced by farmers.

However, before suggesting solutions to the problems there is need to understand what constitutes smallholder farming and an understanding of the constraints and challenges faced by the farming systems. The main objectives of this study were to 1 Review the constraints and challenges faced by smallholder farmers in South Africa, 2 Assess the impact of the agronomic constraints on smallholder cropping systems, 3 Explore the relationship between agronomic constraints and crop yields and 4 Suggest some of the interventions, options and opportunities that South Africa can utilise to improve productivity in the smallholder farming sector.

There is no standard definition of a smallholder farmer but the term is generally used in the South African context for producers who are black and otherwise distinct from the dominant and white dominated large-scale commercial sector No clear distinctions can be drawn between categories such as smallholder, small-scale, subsistence, communal or emergent or peasant.

In the South African context and in this study, smallholder farmers are defined as black farmers most of whom reside in the former homelands. Smallholder farmers are usually affected by prices, subsidies and markets but the input and output markets, which are not fully formed, remain localised to some extent Smallholder farmers in South Africa are generally not farming at an optimum level. This is because the constraints and challenges facing smallholder farmers have not been addressed well, hence the persistence of low productivity levels.

Challenges encountered by smallholders have been linked to historical, socio-economic, financial, natural and agronomic factors 19 , 20 , 15 , While challenges such as socio-economic and financial factors have support programs and institutions to assist the farmers, in the case of agronomic constraints there is very little progress on efforts to help farmers.

Agronomic constraints that farmers are battling with include tillage practices, nutrient fertilizer management, water irrigation and rainfall management, cultivar choice, planting dates and planting densities and resultant plant stands 15 , In South Africa, the smallholder crop producer challenges and constraints have been identified and studied but to date not many studies have found real solutions to the constraints.

Generally, smallholder farmers are not efficiently producing or at least sustaining the production. Fanadzo et al. Tillage: There is clear evidence on how conventional tillage causes and contributes to soil degradation, erosion and desiccation. Frequent soil disturbance with implements such as ploughs and hoes, which is common in smallholder production in the Southern African region, does more harm than good 7. One obvious negative effect of tilling the soil is the creation of the restrictive soil layers commonly known as hard pans. The restrictive hard pans created by frequent tillage impede soil infiltration and root penetration and causes accelerated oxidation of organic matter 7.

Conventional tillage is labor demanding in smallholder production and it is associated with poor timing of farming operations Resource poor farmers who depend on ox-traction, which is not uncommon in many smallholder productions for ploughing operations, are affected. Kosgei et al. However, that is untrue according to Rockstrom and Falkenmark This is partly because the restrictive layers delay seed emergence and compromise plant growth Johansen et al. Wani et al. Runoff increases in soils where tillage has excessively destroyed the organic matter status of the soil leading to reduced water holding capacity In a study of tillage impacts on maize yields, Kosgei et al.

Burning or removal of crop residues after tillage leaves the top soil exposed to adverse climatic conditions 23 such as runoff and wind, hence top soil loss which further leads to reduced soil fertility for crop production. Water management: South Africa has an average annual rainfall of less than mm. Rainfed crop production is concentrated in the sub-humid zones as well as in the central and eastern reaches of the semiarid zone, where favourable soil characteristics occur 1. Unlike farmers who practice irrigation, dryland farmers have to battle drought, which is a huge constraint to resource poor farmers without irrigation.

Knowledge of drought incidence is crucial under dryland smallholder agriculture Such knowledge enables smallholder farmers to be prepared and to commence the necessary measures early to prevent crop failures. Mupangwa et al. Water productivity in smallholder dryland farming is a limiting factor to optimum production in many areas. In addition to drought, the cropping timeliness to coincide with rain, hydrological properties of soils and timely weed control 24 also pose major constraints.

The low mean annual rainfall of mm and high annual evaporation of mm in South Africa results in severe crop water stress during most seasons These conditions were prevalent in semi-arid areas where smallholder farmers are located with little capacity to establish conventional irrigation infrastructure to handle recurring droughts and periods of dry spells Water availability in dryland farming can be cited as the single most important challenge to crop growth 23 , 32 - Most of these studies concluded that low productivity in dryland agriculture mainly relates to management practices.

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According to Rockstrom et al. Improved management practices can increase yields obtained in dryland agriculture. The challenge is to maximize water infiltration, mitigate dry spells and improve primarily soil fertility in order to increase productivity 7. De Winnaar et al. The authors concluded that providing information of runoff that is spatially relevant is a vital step for locating runoff-generating areas and determining areas within a catchment where surface water is generated, which is an important step in promoting runoff-harvesting technologies.

Irrigation reduces or removes water deficit as a limiting factor in plant growth and makes it possible to grow crops where the climate is too dry for this purpose and to increase crop yields However, research also showed that with adequate water but improper management practices yields were likely to remain poor in irrigated agriculture. Generally, infield water management in smallholder irrigation schemes in South Africa is weak. In the Eastern Cape, Fanadzo et al. Different standpipe lengths, sprinklers and nozzles were found in single laterals while many connections to the laterals often leaked due to worn-out threads Table 1.

In KwaZulu-Natal, farmers reported problems with regards to irrigation methods; for example, furrow irrigation was reported as causing erosion and wasting water as it is difficult to measure the exact amount of water to be provided to the crops Sprinkler irrigation schedules of two to four hour stand times every two to three days were common. In extreme cases, farmers irrigated overnight, resulting in over irrigation and wastage of water.

Irrigation scheduling was generally constant regardless of crop type and growth stage, usually resulting in over irrigation during early crop growth stages and under-irrigation during the advanced growth stages. Similar results were obtained in the Limpopo province where farmers applied large amounts of water at a time instead of applying reduced amounts of water at intervals that are more frequent.

Over irrigation was one of the reasons for reduction in yields in Limpopo Soil fertility management: Soil fertility is defined as the quality of a soil that enables it to provide nutrients in adequate quantities and in proper balance for the growth of specified plants or crops A decline in soil fertility implies a decline in the quality of the soil. Soil fertility decline is defined as the decline in chemical soil fertility or a decrease in the levels of soil organic matter , pH, cation exchange capacity and plant nutrients Nutrient removal may result in a decline of the soil fertility if replenishment with inorganic or organic nutrient inputs is inadequate.

In many parts where smallholders are operating, declining soil fertility is a major production constraint 23 , A lack of fertilizers and manure has not only been identified as a factor contributing to low soil fertility but farmers also explained how soil erosion and poor soil type s are also aggravating the situation. Even in areas of adequate rainfall distribution, crop yields remain largely low. Crop management practices and soil fertility were cited by Minde et al. Knowledge of land conditions and soil health constraints is necessary to plan management options and to apply necessary soil fertility enhancements Soil health is a huge research topic under smallholder irrigation 35 , 41 , Research also indicated that dryland smallholder farmers tend not to apply fertilizer, fearing risks of crop failures caused by dry spells and drought 43 and at times, the low availability and the high cost of fertilizer is an impediment Soil fertility is reported to be very low in much of the Sub-Saharan Africa region and Rockstrom 23 added that farmers in Africa generally apply 11 kg of fertilizer per every harvestable hectare, while in developed countries the average fertilizer applied for every hectare is 62 kg.

Soil fertility constraints often constitute the primary limiting factor to crop growth in both irrigated and dryland agriculture. Andersson et al. There is a considerable relationship between water usage and fertilizer applications in crop production. A combination of supplementary irrigation and fertilizer applications leaded to improvements in yields in drylands 7 , However, fertilizer application alone resulted in higher yields than supplementary irrigation alone. It is not uncommon in South Africa where smallholder farmers generally use low inputs to use kraal manure as a source of fertilizer.

Smallholder farmers resort to manure and other non-synthetic fertilizers due to lack of capacity to buy commercial fertilizers. Research indicated that soils under smallholder irrigation lacks the essential nutrients and farmers tend to ignore the detrimental effects of soils cultivated without replenished fertilizers. For instance, farmers in the Eastern Cape applied fertilizers at random and the applications were only made once in two to three years Mandiringana et al.

In Limpopo province, Machethe et al. In the same province, fertilizer application rates were usually not based on soil fertility analysis and recommendations Farmers cited a lack of information on fertilizer recommendations and funds as the main reasons for resorting to low blanket applications. Farmers are not only unable to obtain appropriate fertilizers but they are also unaware of the correct fertilizers for usage in already depleted soils 38 , Farmers need to know the recommended fertilizer application rates and Odhiambo and Magandini 41 stressed that while that may seem obvious, inappropriate applications of fertilizer or soil amendments can waste resources, cause water pollution and damage soils.

Farmers do not have knowledge of nutrient requirements of the crops that they plant, which can increasingly overuse the nutrient reserves. Irrigation imposes a great demand for nutrients and most crops grown under irrigation are high value vegetable crops that take up large quantities of nutrients from soils. Provision should therefore, be made to replace nutrients removed by these heavy feeders for farmers to continue realizing profitable yields. The interaction of moisture supply and nutrient supply is reciprocal such that if the farmer cannot irrigate, it is a waste to fertilize and if a farmer cannot fertilize, it is a waste to irrigate Therefore, with inadequate fertilizer management under the smallholder sector, farmers are not getting the potential yields.

Cropping patterns: Cropping patterns yearly sequence and spatial arrangement of crops or of crops and fallow on a given area present an advantage and opportunity to farmers, allowing them to sow crop after a crop and increase cropping intensity However, Van Duivenbooden et al. Snapp et al. Furthermore, Ogindo and Walker 31 found out a low surface evaporation rate in a maize-bean intercrop in the Free State province.

A high leaf area of the intercrop can suppress weeds and provide soil moisture retention. Planting densities of the intercropping system depends on both rainfall and soil type. A common rotational practice involves maize with either a legume crop or vegetable.

Coffee farming and soil management in Rwanda

In the case of vegetables, farmers are mainly using them for local market income. Magombeyi and Taigbenu 39 in a study of the Olifants River basin found the same results where farmers generally planted maize in the area for approximately days and after harvest, farmers prepare their fields for winter vegetables.

In addition, in many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, the inclusion of cereal-legume such as millet Pennisetum glaucum , sorghum Sorghum bicolor and wheat Triticum aestivum is common Cropping patterns generally used in many smallholder-irrigated areas involve alternating summer and winter crops, field crops and vegetables 20 , Depending on province, the type of crops grown under irrigation differs. Of all the crops, maize is the most common and important summer crop grown in terms of the areas devoted to crop type and number of growers 20 , 41 , In Limpopo, Machethe et al.

Under irrigation in KwaZulu-Natal, it is possible to cultivate three crops a year on a single plot but many farmers leave at least some plots fallow in the winter months The use of arable land is not optimum in smallholder cropping, both under irrigation and under dryland. Land-use, as expressed in terms of the number of crops that are cultivated on a particular surface area per year or season is termed cropping intensity.

Similar low cropping intensity levels have been reported in smallholder irrigation schemes in other provinces 14 , 52 , Increased crop productivity with higher cropping intensities is well documented 54 - Lack of motivation and resources were identified as the two main factors responsible for the underutilization of land in the Eastern Cape The low cropping intensities were attributed to minimal winter cropping because of limited markets for most winter vegetables such as cabbage Brassica oleracea var.

Farmers relied on customers who came to buy the vegetables from the field.

Thus, even at the low winter cropping intensities, some of the cabbage was observed to rot in the field after farmers failed to secure customers on time. Cultivar choice: Literature available on crop cultivars does not give specific details of the varieties of crops used by smallholder farmers in South Africa based on their farming systems.

However, Fanadzo et al. Van Averbeke et al. With timely planting and optimum fertilizer application, long season maize cultivars were favoured over short season cultivars, while the latter was a better option with delayed planting as long as the cultivars were grown at higher densities and well fertilized under irrigation in the Eastern Cape Farmers seemed to be willing to pay for weed-control and labour-saving benefits of HT maize than the borer-control insurance of the Bt maize.

Although literature lacks details on cultivars grown by smallholder farmers, especially under dryland, specifics are available for the type of cultivars that farmers can utilize. According to Van Duivenbooden et al. When cultivar PAN was grown together with dry bean in intercropping system, the recorded advantages were water conservation and high biomass creation due to increased transpiration.

The fertilizer application rate, planting density per hectare and cultivar choice forms a link when deciding on appropriate cultivars for dryland production Planting time and densities: Research showed significant relationships between moisture, fertilizer applications, planting populations and planting dates. In a study by Fanadzo et al. Late planting was identified by Van Averbeke et al. Economic crop yields arise from plant densities that minimize inter and intra-row competition, which widely depends on environmental conditions, while cereal grain yield is the product of heads per unit area, kernels per head and kernel weight Factors that influence these components are seeding density, plant distribution and genotype for a given area.

For grain legumes, which form part of most rotational and intercropping in many smallholders 48 , an optimum seeding rate depends on the delicate balance between seedling death by fungal pathogens, extent of infestation by foliar diseases and insect pests, soil moisture status throughout the crop cycle and production of sufficient vegetative growth for supporting yield formation Plant population is influenced by other prevailing conditions in achieving an optimum population. Soil fertility and moisture are known to be playing a fundamental role. In conditions where soil fertility and moisture are low, planting density is likely to be affected and dryland farmers are already facing that problem.

Planting population management is generally poor in many smallholder areas under irrigation with most studies showing results of under population. Higher yielding cultivars at optimum planting densities are important if higher yields are to be achieved. However, plant populations interact with other factors such as fertilizers particularly nitrogen, cultivar selection and planting time.

With nutrients and season length non-limiting, the higher plant populations will yield more for short season cultivars and long season cultivars would yield more at low planting populations in maize Machethe et al. However, densities were relatively high taking into consideration the fact that fertilizer especially nitrogen was marginal As supported by various studies 60 - 65 , for example, knowledge of optimum planting populations and determinants of the choice of planting density is crucial for achieving high yields.

Manipulation of planting densities and row spaces play a vital role in grain production. Maize is the agronomic species that is most sensitive to changes in planting density, such that for each production system, there is a population that maximizes the utilization of available resources allowing for the expression of maximum attainable yield in the environment Research showed that water is the main constraining factor to productivity under dryland agriculture and other factors such as nutrient and pest management techniques play a lesser role Results by Rockstrom et al.

The challenge in dryland farming is to maximise infiltration, mitigate dry-spells and to improve primarily soil fertility management in order to increase water productivity. Approaches such as rainwater harvesting techniques are argued as means to manage drought and dry spells in dryland agriculture 33 , Biazin et al.

These techniques are aimed at enhancing rainfall infiltration ad reducing soil evaporation. The most commonly applied in situ rainwater harvesting and management practices include ridging, mulching, various types of furrowing and hoeing and conservation tillage In the Free State province, intercropping was identified as one option to maximise water usage by reducing the rate of soil water evaporation on smallholder farms The maize-bean intercrop had the lowest soil surface evaporation as a percentage of precipitation and evapotranspiration. The overall aim of the symposium was to review the role of soils and Soil Organic Carbon in the context of climate change, sustainable development and land degradation neutrality.

May 10th, Adoption of agroforestry and the impact on household food security among farmers in Malawi. Published by Agricultural Systems Journal , April 28th, This article analyzes the impacts of adopting fertilizer trees such as Gliricidia sepium and Faidherbia albida on household food security. Agroforestry is increasingly regarded as an important adaptation and mitigation strategy against climate change. In particular, the use of fertilizer trees has been promoted as a practice that contributes to improved soil fertility through nitrogen fixation.

May 1st, The business case for soil. Published by Nature , March 15th, In this expert opinion Jess Davis argues that action on soil sustainability must move beyond the farm and into the boardroom.

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Nigeria Agricultural Journal

She argues that most businesses are unaware that their bottom lines depend on soil; nor are they aware of the risks they face from its degradation. April 27th, Groundwater depletion embedded in international food trade. Published by Nature Journal , March 29th, This letter discusses the connection between groundwater depletion and global food consumption.

Recent hydrological modelling and Earth observations have located and quantified alarming rates of groundwater depletion worldwide. This depletion is primarily due to water withdrawals for irrigation, but its connection with the main driver of irrigation, global food consumption, has not yet been explored. The letter analyzes regional and crop-specific groundwater depletion data to identify areas of concern. April 10th, Soil and water conservation, and soil fertility management effects on rain water productivity of maize hybrid in Burkina Faso. This article assesses the combined effects of Soil and Water Conservation SWC practices and soil fertility management on rain water productivity of maize hybrid.

On-farm experiments were carried out in two districts of Burkina Faso. The treatments were built as association of two SWC technologies combined with three fertilization options. It is found that the efficacy of SWC practices decrease with the increase in the mean annual rainfall. March 30th, Soil and soil fertility management research in sub-Saharan Africa: Fifty years of shifting visions and chequered achievements.

Published by Routledge , March 29th, This book published describes the various concepts and approaches underlying soil and soil fertility management research in sub-Saharan Africa SSA over the last fifty years. It argues that knowledge on soil fertility management is crucial for sustainable crop production and food security in sub-Saharan Africa SSA. March 20th, Fertilizer use optimization in Sub-Saharan Africa. This book provides a detailed explanation on optimizing fertilizer use within an Integrated Soil Fertility Management Framework in 13 African countries.

At the farm level enabling fertilizer use optimization is in early stages for most countries but considerable experience has been gained from Uganda, as well as Kenya and Tanzania. February 20th, Understanding the adoption and application of conservation agriculture in southern Africa. This info note presents the main results and lessons learned from a programme focusing on productive farming systems based on the principles of conservation agriculture. Lessons learned show that direct seeding systems are the most economical way of planting, that a combination with other climate-smart technologies provides additional benefits, and that crop rotation can improve yields, nutrition and income.

The reduction in planting and weeding time can benefit women and indirectly increase the household food basket and income. This working paper describes recent initiatives in Bangladesh and Nepal to reverse declining soil fertility and promote sustainable agricultural practices by increasing the use of organic fertiliser — from both commercial and household sources.

The authors state that to break the vicious cycle whereby intensive agriculture in both countries depletes soil organic matter and increases vulnerability to drought, an integrated approach is required which balances applications of organic and chemical fertilisers and promotes agronomic practices that enhance soil fertility. January 22nd, Integrated systems research for sustainable smallholder agriculture in the Central Mekong.

This book summarizes the achievements as well as some of the challenges faced while implementing integrated systems research to support the sustainable development of smallholder farming in the uplands of the Mekong region. The third chapter on integrating tree, crop and livestock technologies provides solutions and interventions to sustainably recover land while ensuring short-term economic returns.

January 18th, Building adaptive capacity and improving food security in semi-arid Eastern Kenya. This info-note elaborates on the adaptive capacity and improved food security in East-Kenya. Wote, located in a semi-arid zone of eastern Kenya, is characterized by highly weathered soils. Soil erosion is rampant due to lack of adequate vegetation cover at the beginning of the rainy seasons, and also due to the sparse shrubs.

Land degradation and limited soil fertility replenishment have contributed to reduction in agricultural productivity, reducing potential crop yields due to soil nutrient depletion. Fertile ground: harnessing the market to reverse soil degradation in South Asia. This briefing by IIED argues that there is a need to develop value chains to enable organic fertilisers and composts to supply much needed organic matter to depleted soils.

Soils are the foundation of all terrestrial life on the planet and are essential for agricultural production.


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Yet intensive agriculture involving heavy inputs of chemical fertilisers is degrading soils across South Asia and many other parts of the world, threatening food security. December 19th, Lessons learned: Designing and implementing conservation agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. The three principles of conservation agriculture are: continuous minimum mechanical soil disturbance; permanent organic soil cover; and diversification. While CA took off in Latin America, adoption in sub-Saharan Africa has been limited due to different contexts and challenges. November 10th, Agricultural intensification in Mali and Sudan through improved soil fertility, integrated pest management and mechanization.

This report by PROIntenseAfrica discusses the role of improved farm power and mechanization, seed priming, improved soil fertility microdosing and Integrated Pest Management IPM practices in the intensification of agricultural production in Mali and Sudan. Capacity building, awareness creation through farmers training and access to credits are crucial for the adoption and sustainable use of agricultural technologies in Mali and Sudan.

Given the very high loss due to pest damage, intensification of crop production without an adequate protection from pest damage is not economically viable. October 4th, Soil fertility gradients and production constraints for coffee and banana on volcanic mountain slopes in the east African rift.