Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 88, Issue 1, pp 59–77 | Cite as

Nitrogen and phosphorus capture and recovery efficiencies, and crop responses to a range of soil fertility management strategies in sub-Saharan Africa

  • R. Chikowo
  • M. Corbeels
  • P. Mapfumo
  • P. Tittonell
  • B. Vanlauwe
  • K. E. Giller
Original Article


This paper examines a number of agronomic field experiments in different regions of sub-Saharan Africa to assess the associated variability in the efficiencies with which applied and available nutrients are taken up by crops under a wide range of management and environmental conditions. We consider N and P capture efficiencies (NCE and PCE, kg uptake kg−1 nutrient availability), and N and P recovery efficiencies (NRE and PRE, kg uptake kg−1 nutrient added). The analyzed cropping systems employed different soil fertility management practices that included (1) N and P mineral fertilizers (as sole or their combinations) (2) cattle manure composted then applied or applied directly to fields through animal corralling, and legume based systems separated into (3) improved fallows/cover crops-cereal sequences, and (4) grain legume-cereal rotations. Crop responses to added nutrients varied widely, which is a logical consequence of the wide diversity in the balance of production resources across regions from arid through wet tropics, coupled with an equally large array of management practices and inter-season variability. The NCE ranged from 0.05 to 0.98 kg kg−1 for the different systems (NP fertilizers, 0.16–0.98; fallow/cover crops, 0.05–0.75; animal manure, 0.10–0.74 kg kg−1), while PCE ranged from 0.09 to 0.71 kg kg−1, depending on soil conditions. The respective NREs averaged 0.38, 0.23 and 0.25 kg kg−1. Cases were found where NREs were >1 for mineral fertilizers or negative when poor quality manure immobilized soil N, while response to P was in many cases poor due to P fixation by soils. Other than good agronomy, it was apparent that flexible systems of fertilization that vary N input according to the current seasonal rainfall pattern offer opportunities for high resource capture and recovery efficiencies in semi-arid areas. We suggest the use of cropping systems modeling approaches to hasten the understanding of Africa’s complex cropping systems.


Nutrient use efficiency Sub-Saharan Africa Nutrient mining Fertilizers Manure Legumes Cropping systems modeling 



We are grateful to the European Commission for funding of the Africa-NUANCES project under the INCO program. Funding from the Soil Fertility Consortium for Southern Africa (SOFECSA), through its activities under the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA)’s sub-Saharan Africa Challenge Program (SSA-CP), enabled the completion of this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Chikowo
    • 1
  • M. Corbeels
    • 2
    • 3
  • P. Mapfumo
    • 1
    • 4
  • P. Tittonell
    • 2
  • B. Vanlauwe
    • 5
  • K. E. Giller
    • 6
  1. 1.Soil Science & Agricultural Engineering DepartmentUniversity of ZimbabweMt Pleasant, HarareZimbabwe
  2. 2.Département PersystCentre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD)Montpellier Cedex 5France
  3. 3.Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (TSBF-CIAT)Mt Pleasant, HarareZimbabwe
  4. 4.The Soil Fertility Consortium for Southern Africa (SOFECSA), CIMMYT- ZimbabweMount Pleasant, HarareZimbabwe
  5. 5.Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute of CIAT (TSBF-CIAT)NairobiKenya
  6. 6.Plant Production Systems, Department of Plant SciencesWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands

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