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Heliyon
Volume 7 (3), 2021, e06636

Conservation agriculture-related practices contribute to maize (Zea mays L.) yield and soil improvement in Central Malawi

Harrington Nyirendaa, Victoria Balakab

Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Salima Agricultural Development Division, Private Bag 1, Salima, Malawi.

Abstract

Conservation agriculture-related practices (CARP) improve soil fertility, maize yield, and profitability. A study was conducted to generate evidence on the benefits of CARP in the long-term (nine years) in Salima District, Central Malawi. The objectives of the study were 1) to compare the maize yields between farmer practice and CARP interventions in the long-term, 2) to compare soil fertility changes between farmer practice and CARP interventions in the long-term, and 3) to verify the intercropping efficiency of maize with groundnut using the land equivalent ratio (LER) and land equivalent coefficient (LEC). A guiding hypothesis was that the application of CARP improves soil condition and maize yield. Farmer practice (FP) and three CARP [Pit planting + mulching (PPM), Intercropping + mulching (INM), and Mulching (MC)] treatments were tested in the study. INM was also tested for intercropping efficiency. Maize yields in CARP (3.98–4.43 Mg ha-1) were significantly higher (p < 0.018) than in FP (1.84 Mg ha-1). Soil pH, soil organic carbon, soil organic matter, nitrogen, and bulk density were acceptable for the Malawian soil in CARP compared to FP, suggesting that CARP improved soil fertility properties. There was no significant difference in soil potassium concentration across the treatments (p < 0.0642). The land equivalent ratio for maize and groundnut intercropping in INM was 1.77, indicating beneficial intercropping efficiency. The benefit-cost ratios (BCR) for PPM, INM, and MC were 1.55, 1.90, and 2.26, respectively, indicating that CARP interventions were more profitable than FP (BCR = 0.15). It is concluded that CARP interventions contribute to increased crop yield, income, and soil fertility restoration in the agricultural land. The selection of a CARP intervention should depend on the farmer's main intention, either to maximize yield, soil fertility, income, or a combination.

Keywords: Benefit-cost ratio, Bulk density, Intercropping, Land equivalent ratio, Minimum tillage, Maize yield.

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