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Multi-scale trade-off analysis of cereal residue use for livestock feeding vs. soil mulching in the Mid-Zambezi Valley, Zimbabwe


  • Baudron, Frédéric
  • Delmotte, Sylvestre
  • Corbeels, Marc
  • Herrera, Juan M.
  • Tittonell, Pablo


Cereal residues represent a major resource for livestock feeding during the dry season in southern Africa. When kept on the soil surface instead of feeding them to livestock, crop residues can contribute to increasing soil fertility and maintaining crop productivity in the short- and the long-term. We explored these trade-offs for smallholder cotton–sorghum farming systems in the semi-arid Zambezi Valley, northern Zimbabwe. The analysis was done using simulation models at three scales, the plot, the farm and the territory, to simulate the effects of different sorghum residue allocations to livestock feeding vs. soil mulching, in combination with different application rates of mineral nitrogen fertilizer on crop productivity. The plot-scale simulations suggest that without N fertilization soil mulching has a positive effect on cotton yields only if small quantities of sorghum residues are used as mulch (average cotton yields of 2.24±0.41kgha−1 with a mulch of 100kgha−1 vs. 1.91±0.29kgha−1 without mulch). Greater quantities of mulch have a negative effect on cotton yield without N fertilization due to N immobilization in the soil microbial biomass. With applications of 100kgNha−1, quantities of mulch up to 3tha−1 have no negative effect on cotton yield. Results at farm-scale highlight the fundamental role of livestock as a source of traction, and the need to feed a greater proportion of sorghum residues to livestock as herd and farm sizes increase. Farmers with no livestock attained maximum crop production when 100% of their sorghum residue remained in the field, as they do not have access to cattle manure. The optimum fraction of crop residue to be retained in the fields for maximum farm crop production varied for farmers with 2 or less heads of cattle (80% retention), with 2–3 heads (60–80%), with 4 or more heads (40–60%). At the scale of the entire territory, total cotton and sorghum production increased with the density of cattle, at the expense of soil mulching with crop residues. The results of our simulations suggest that (i) the optimum level of residue retention depends on the scale at which trade-offs are analyzed; (ii) the retention of all of the crop residue as mulch appears unrealistic and undesirable in farming systems that rely on livestock for traction; and (iii) crop residue mulching could be made more attractive to farmers by paying due attention to balancing C to N ratios in the soil and by promoting small-scale mechanization to replace animal traction.

Suggested Citation

  • Baudron, Frédéric & Delmotte, Sylvestre & Corbeels, Marc & Herrera, Juan M. & Tittonell, Pablo, 2015. "Multi-scale trade-off analysis of cereal residue use for livestock feeding vs. soil mulching in the Mid-Zambezi Valley, Zimbabwe," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 134(C), pages 97-106.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:agisys:v:134:y:2015:i:c:p:97-106
    DOI: 10.1016/j.agsy.2014.03.002

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Rufino, M.C. & Dury, J. & Tittonell, P. & van Wijk, M.T. & Herrero, M. & Zingore, S. & Mapfumo, P. & Giller, K.E., 2011. "Competing use of organic resources, village-level interactions between farm types and climate variability in a communal area of NE Zimbabwe," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 104(2), pages 175-190, February.
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    2. Christian Thierfelder & Pauline Chivenge & Walter Mupangwa & Todd S. Rosenstock & Christine Lamanna & Joseph X. Eyre, 2017. "How climate-smart is conservation agriculture (CA)? – its potential to deliver on adaptation, mitigation and productivity on smallholder farms in southern Africa," Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, Springer;The International Society for Plant Pathology, vol. 9(3), pages 537-560, June.
    3. Luedeling, Eike & Smethurst, Philip J. & Baudron, Frédéric & Bayala, Jules & Huth, Neil I. & van Noordwijk, Meine & Ong, Chin K. & Mulia, Rachmat & Lusiana, Betha & Muthuri, Catherine & Sinclair, Ferg, 2016. "Field-scale modeling of tree–crop interactions: Challenges and development needs," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 142(C), pages 51-69.
    4. Tittonell, Pablo & Gérard, Bruno & Erenstein, Olaf, 2015. "Tradeoffs around crop residue biomass in smallholder crop-livestock systems – What’s next?," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 134(C), pages 119-128.

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