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Yield and soil system changes from conservation tillage in dryland farming: A case study from North Eastern Tanzania


  • Enfors, Elin
  • Barron, Jennie
  • Makurira, Hodson
  • Rockström, Johan
  • Tumbo, Siza


Yield levels in smallholder farming systems in semi-arid sub-Saharan Africa are generally low. Water shortage in the root zone during critical crop development stages is a fundamental constraining factor. While there is ample evidence to show that conservation tillage can promote soil health, it has recently been suggested that the main benefit in semi-arid farming systems may in fact be an in situ water harvesting effect. In this paper we present the result from an on-farm conservation tillage experiment (combining ripping with mulch and manure application) that was carried out in North Eastern Tanzania from 2005 to 2008. Special attention was given to the effects of the tested treatment on the capacity of the soil to retain moisture. The tested conservation treatment only had a clear yield increasing effect during one of the six experimental seasons (maize grain yields increased by 41%, and biomass by 65%), and this was a season that received exceptional amounts of rainfall (549Â mm). While the other seasons provided mixed results, there seemed to be an increasing yield gap between the conservation tillage treatment and the control towards the end of the experiment, and cumulatively the yield increased with 17%. Regarding soil system changes, small but significant effects on chemical and microbiological properties, but not on physical properties, were observed. This raises questions about the suggested water harvesting effect and its potential to contribute to stabilized yield levels under semi-arid conditions. We conclude that, at least in a shorter time perspective, the tested type of conservation tillage seems to boost productivity during already good seasons, rather than stabilize harvests during poor rainfall seasons. Highlighting the challenges involved in upgrading these farming systems, we discuss the potential contribution of conservation tillage towards improved water availability in the crop root zone in a longer term perspective.

Suggested Citation

  • Enfors, Elin & Barron, Jennie & Makurira, Hodson & Rockström, Johan & Tumbo, Siza, 2011. "Yield and soil system changes from conservation tillage in dryland farming: A case study from North Eastern Tanzania," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 98(11), pages 1687-1695, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:agiwat:v:98:y:2011:i:11:p:1687-1695

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Diao, Xinshen & Hazell, Peter & Resnick, Danielle & Thurlow, James, 2006. "The role of agriculture in development: implications for Sub-Saharan Africa," DSGD discussion papers 29, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    2. Rockstrom, J. & Hatibu, N. & Oweis, T. Y. & Wani, S. & Barron, J. & Bruggeman, A. & Farahani, J. & Karlberg, L. & Qiang, Z., 2007. "Managing water in rainfed agriculture," IWMI Books, Reports H040201, International Water Management Institute.
    3. Haggblade, Steven & Tembo, Gelson, 2003. "Conservation farming in Zambia:," EPTD discussion papers 108, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    4. Knowler, Duncan & Bradshaw, Ben, 2007. "Farmers' adoption of conservation agriculture: A review and synthesis of recent research," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 25-48, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Caretta, Martina Angela, 2015. "Managing variability and scarcity. An analysis of Engaruka: A Maasai smallholder irrigation farming community," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 159(C), pages 318-330.
    2. Klaus J. Droppelmann & Sieglinde S. Snapp & Stephen R. Waddington, 2017. "Sustainable intensification options for smallholder maize-based farming systems in sub-Saharan Africa," Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, Springer;The International Society for Plant Pathology, vol. 9(1), pages 133-150, February.
    3. Liu, S. & Yang, J.Y. & Zhang, X.Y. & Drury, C.F. & Reynolds, W.D. & Hoogenboom, G., 2013. "Modelling crop yield, soil water content and soil temperature for a soybean–maize rotation under conventional and conservation tillage systems in Northeast China," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 123(C), pages 32-44.
    4. Katherine Tully & Clare Sullivan & Ray Weil & Pedro Sanchez, 2015. "The State of Soil Degradation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Baselines, Trajectories, and Solutions," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 7(6), pages 1-30, May.
    5. Okeyo, A.I. & Mucheru-Muna, M. & Mugwe, J. & Ngetich, K.F. & Mugendi, D.N. & Diels, J. & Shisanya, C.A., 2014. "Effects of selected soil and water conservation technologies on nutrient losses and maize yields in the central highlands of Kenya," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 137(C), pages 52-58.


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