Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 113, Issue 3, pp 283–305 | Cite as

Nitrogen release and synchrony in organic and conventional farming systems of the Central Highlands of Kenya

  • Martha W. Musyoka
  • Noah AdamteyEmail author
  • Else K. Bünemann
  • Anne W. Muriuki
  • Edward N. Karanja
  • Monica Mucheru-Muna
  • Komi K. M. Fiaboe
  • Georg Cadisch
Original Article


To match Nitrogen (N) supply to crop N demand, it is essential to understand N release and uptake patterns in different farming systems and crops. To assesses the dynamics of N released in organic and conventional systems and potential synchrony and asynchrony in crop N uptake, a study was conducted over three cropping seasons (potato, maize and leafy vegetables) at two sites in the Central Highlands of Kenya. Mineral-N release and synchrony were monitored in conventional and organic systems at high (recommended N, P, pesticides and irrigation) and low input (low N, P, pesticide use and rainfed) systems. Mineral-N release was assessed using in situ buried bags and N synchrony was measured by the daily differences in N fluxes. The percentage of N applied released during potato (38%) and vegetable (44%) cropping seasons were similar between systems. However, under maize strong temporal N immobilization from inputs occurred, particularly at Thika, related to the poor quality of manure and compost (lignin:N ratio > 13). In all systems, excess-asynchrony of available N was pronounced during vegetative stages and at harvest, while insufficient-asynchrony occurred at reproductive stages. During potato cropping season at Thika, Org-High showed highest positive N fluxes (> 20 kg N ha−1 day−1) at planting and tuber bulking stage. At early stages of maize and vegetables Org-Low and Org-High experienced up to 5 times larger negative N fluxes (insufficiency) compared to conventional treatments at Chuka site. The study recommends reducing N applications at planting and increasing N dosages at reproductive stages of crops.


Incubation Mineralization Mineral-N release Synchrony Organic input quality 



We gratefully acknowledge the financial support provided for this research by our financial partners: Biovision Foundation, the Swiss Coop Sustainability Fund, the Liechtenstein Development Service (LED) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). We are also thankful to the kind contribution by icipe core funding provided by UK-Aid from the UK Government (DFiD), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, and the Kenyan Government. The support received from SysCom team members in Kenya: Jane Makena, Felistus K. Mutua and the late Peter Owuor during fieldwork was greatly appreciated. We also appreciate the assistance in laboratory analysis by Kenya Agricultural Research Institute Muguga staff led by Nicholas Kungu and Peter Wakaba. We also thank Dr Daisy Salifu of icipe and Juan Laso of Hohenheim University for their statistical guidance and Nicholas Parrott of whose empathetic English language editing greatly helped improve its readability. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the donors.

Supplementary material

10705_2019_9978_MOESM1_ESM.docx (20 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 19 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martha W. Musyoka
    • 1
    • 2
  • Noah Adamtey
    • 3
    Email author
  • Else K. Bünemann
    • 3
  • Anne W. Muriuki
    • 4
  • Edward N. Karanja
    • 2
  • Monica Mucheru-Muna
    • 5
  • Komi K. M. Fiaboe
    • 6
  • Georg Cadisch
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Agricultural Sciences in the Tropics (Hans-Ruthenberg Institute)Hohenheim UniversityStuttgartGermany
  2. 2.International Centre for Insect Physiology and EcologyNairobiKenya
  3. 3.Research Institute of Organic AgricultureFrickSwitzerland
  4. 4.Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, National Agricultural Research LaboratoriesNairobiKenya
  5. 5.Department of Environmental SciencesKenyatta UniversityNairobiKenya
  6. 6.International Institute of Tropical AgricultureMessa, YaoundéCameroon

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