Investigating Conservation Agriculture (CA) Systems in Zambia and Zimbabwe to Mitigate Future Effects of Climate Change

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Chicago Library]On: 19 November 2014, At: 22:56Publisher: Taylor & FrancisInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Journal of Crop ImprovementPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wcim20

    Investigating Conservation Agriculture(CA) Systems in Zambia and Zimbabweto Mitigate Future Effects of ClimateChangeC. Thierfelder a & P. C. Wall aa CIMMYT , Harare, ZimbabwePublished online: 23 Apr 2010.

    To cite this article: C. Thierfelder & P. C. Wall (2010) Investigating Conservation Agriculture (CA)Systems in Zambia and Zimbabwe to Mitigate Future Effects of Climate Change, Journal of CropImprovement, 24:2, 113-121, DOI: 10.1080/15427520903558484

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  • Journal of Crop Improvement, 24:113121, 2010Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 1542-7528 print/1542-7535 onlineDOI: 10.1080/15427520903558484

    Investigating Conservation Agriculture (CA)Systems in Zambia and Zimbabwe to Mitigate

    Future Effects of Climate Change

    C. THIERFELDER and P. C. WALLCIMMYT, Harare, Zimbabwe

    Most models predict that climate change will affect the southernAfrican region both through temperature rises and increased fre-quency and severity of drought. Conservation agriculture (CA)based on minimal soil disturbance, crop residue retention, andcrop rotations offers potential solutions to mitigate the effects ofseasonal drought. In Zimbabwe and Zambia, we investigated theeffects of different maize-based CA systems on water relations andcrop productivity from 2005-2009 and compared results with con-ventionally plowed plots. In all seasons, we found higher waterinfiltration on CA plots, and it was three to five times higher ondirect-seeded CA plots compared to conventionally plowed controlplots in 2009. This led to higher available soil moisture on CA plots.The increase in soil moisture will enable crops to overcome sea-sonal dry spells, mitigate the effects of drought, reduce the risk ofcrop failure, and secure livelihoods in the region.

    KEYWORDS Conservation agriculture, soil moisture, infiltration,climate change, mitigation

    INTRODUCTION

    Climatic models suggest that the southern African region will be stronglyaffected by future climatic changes: they predict higher temperatures and

    This work was supported by CIMMYT projects funded by the Ministry of EconomicCooperation (BMZ) of the German Government and the International Fund for AgricultureDevelopment (IFAD). Their support is gratefully acknowledged, as is the technical supportfrom Tobias Charakupa, Sign Phiri (Zimbabwe), and Mangwala Sitali (Zambia).

    Address correspondence to C. Thierfelder at CIMMYT, P.O. Box MP 163, Mount Pleasant,Harare, Zimbabwe. E-mail: c.thierfelder@cgiar.org

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  • 114 C. Thierfelder and P. C. Wall

    an increased frequency and severity of drought, which will prejudice cropproduction if there is no adaptation or change of existing cropping systems.Using the results of 20 general circulation models, Lobell and colleagues(2008) estimated that temperatures in southern Africa would increase byroughly 1.0C, and that precipitation would fall by 10%. They determinedthat maize (Zea mays L.) and wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) would be thecrops most negatively affected in the region, with estimated reductionsin yield of close to 30% and 15%, respectively. Maize is the staple foodcrop for most of the population in southern African region and accountsfor approximately 50% of the caloric intake (Dowswell, Paliwal, & Cantrell1996). A reduction in yield of this important crop would have negativeeffects on food security. The predicted lower rainfall increases the needfor more water-efficient cropping systems to mitigate the effects of climatechange. Adaptation strategies could include changes in varieties, plantingdates, or changing from highly sensitive to less sensitive crops, i.e., sorghum(Sorghum bicolor L.) (Lobell et al. 2008). The most promising changes, how-ever, involve more efficient use of rainfall: higher infiltration, less waterrunoff, and reduced evaporation. The more rainfall water that can beretained and stored on-site, the more there is available for crop production.

    Conservation agriculture (CA) is a relatively new system in the region.It is based on three principles: a) minimum soil disturbance and there-fore minimum tillage; b) permanent soil surface cover with crop residuesor living plants; and c) crop rotations. Conservation agriculture involves acomplete change in management, including different seeding techniques,weed control, and fertilization strategies. Residue-management practicesand crop rotations, and changes from traditional systems to CA, cantherefore be complex for farmers (Wall 2007). Benefits of CA systemshave been widely published in literature (see reviews by Reicosky 2000;FAO 2002; Wall 2007; Hobbs 2007); however, concerns over its feasibil-ity in southern Africa have also been highlighted by Bolliger (2007) andGiller et al. (2009). These concerns need to be addressed by scientificresearch.

    This paper reports results from two trials in Zimbabwe and Zambia,established to monitor and compare the long-term effects of CA and con-ventional systems on soil quality under southern African conditions. Resultsfrom the 2005/06-2008/09 seasons presented here focus mainly on fieldmeasurements of water infiltration, soil moisture status, and crop produc-tivity. The paper aims at testing the hypothesis that CA has the potential tomitigate seasonal droughts, thus improving rainfall-use efficiency (RUE) andmaize grain yield.

    MATERIAL AND METHODS

    Multi-season long-term trials comparing CA and conventional agriculturesystems were established in 2004 at Henderson Research Station (HRS),

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  • Conservation Agriculture in Zambia and Zimbabwe 115

    Mashonaland Central Province, Zimbabwe (17.57S; 30.99E; 1136 m.a.s.l.,mean annual rainfall 884 mm) on sandy soils with predominant Arenosolsand Luvisols, and in 2005 at Monze, Farmer Training Centre (MFTC),Southern Province, Zambia (16.24S; 27.44E; 1103 m.a.s.l, mean annual rain-fall 748 mm) on fine-textured Lixisols (FAO 1998). For further details on localcircumstances and treatment on these fully replicated trials, see Thierfelderand Wall (2009).

    In this paper, we compare water infiltration, soil moisture relations, andmaize grain yield in three treatments at each site. At HRS, a traditional farm-ers practice consisting of shallow moldboard plowing with animal tractionwas compared with a direct-seeded CA treatment and an animal-drawn, ripline-seeded CA treatment with continuous maize. The direct-seeded treat-ment at HRS was seeded with an animal traction direct seeder from IrmosFitarelli Mquinas Agricolas, Brazil, only in 2005 but with a manual jab-planter from November 2006 onwards. Both CA treatments were seededinto untilled soil.

    At MFTC, the same plowed traditional farmers practice was com-pared with a direct-seeded CA treatment with continuous maize and adirect-seeded CA treatment with maize in a two-year rotation with cot-ton (Gossypium hirsutum L.). The latter treatments were seeded intountilled soil again with an animal traction direct seeder from Fitarelli,Brazil.

    At both sites, commercial maize hybrids were seeded in rows spaced90 cm apart. In all manually seeded treatments, seed was placed in theserows with three seeds per station and 50 cm between planting stations,later thinned to 44,000 plants ha-1. The direct seeder was calibrated to thesame final population after thinning. All crops were fertilized with a basaldressing of 163 kg ha-1 Compound D (7N:14P2O5:7K2O in Zimbabwe and10N:20P2O5:10K

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