Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 114, Issue 3, pp 237–260 | Cite as

Nitrogen leaching losses and balances in conventional and organic farming systems in Kenya

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


Organic farming has been proposed as a solution to foster agricultural sustainability and mitigate the negative environmental impacts of conventional farming. This study assessed N losses and soil surface N balances in conventional and organic farming systems in a sub-humid and semi-humid (Chuka and Thika) sites in Kenya. Nitrate–N (NO3–N) leached was trapped at 1 m depth using the Self Integrating Accumulator core method and the changes in mineral-N were assessed at different soil depths and different crop growth stages. Both conventional and organic farming systems lost substantial amounts of NO3–N at the early growth stages of all the crops. Cumulative NO3–N leached was similar in all the farming systems in each cropping season. More NO3–N was leached during potato cropping (22–38 kg N ha−1) than during maize (0.9–5.7 kg N ha−1) and vegetable cropping (1.9–2.9 kg N ha−1). Under maize cultivation, three times more NO3–N was leached at Chuka site than at Thika site. During the potato cropping, between 79 and 83% of the N applied in the low input systems was leached, compared to 10–20% in the high input systems. Only Org-High exhibited a positive soil surface N balance (797–1263 kg ha−1) over a whole rotation period at both sites. We recommend reducing N applications for potato in all farming systems and at the early growth stages for all the crops in order to reduce N loss to the environment. We also recommend increasing N application rates in the low input systems and to developing a model to guide application of organic inputs.


Farming systems High input Low input Nitrate–N leaching N-balance 



We gratefully acknowledge the financial support for this research provided by the Biovision Foundation, The Swiss Coop Sustainability Fund, Liechtenstein Development Service (LED) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). We also gratefully acknowledge financial support for the core research agenda of ICIPE provided by UK Aid from the UK Government; the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Kenyan Government. We appreciate the support of Terraquat Ltd Company in providing training on the methodology used, which is patented (Pat. No. 19726813) in the Federal Republic of Germany. The support offered by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) at Muguga during laboratory analysis is much appreciated. We also appreciate the support provided by the SysCom Kenya team (the late Peter Owuor, Jane Makena and Felistas Mutua) during data collection. The support of Dr. Dionys Foster at the initial stages of the trial establishment and Beate Huber, among others) is also highly appreciated. Statistical guidance was provided by Dr. Daisy Salifu of ICIPE and Dr. Juan Laso of Hohenhem University is also appreciated. Dr. Nicholas Parrott’s (, Hendaye) empathetic English language editing helped improve the clarity of the text. Lastly, but not the least to the reviewers for their critical and constructive comments which help to improve the quality of the manuscript. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the official opinions of the donors.

Supplementary material

10705_2019_10002_MOESM1_ESM.docx (128 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 127 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Agricultural Sciences in the Tropics (Hans-Ruthenberg Institute)Hohenheim UniversityStuttgartGermany
  2. 2.International Centre of 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 AgricultureYaoundéCameroon

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