Enhancing maize productivity in agroforestry systems through managing competition: lessons from smallholders’ farms, Rift valley, Kenya

  • J. Nyaga
  • C. W. Muthuri
  • E. Barrios
  • I. Öborn
  • F. L. Sinclair


Understanding crop performance and productivity in relation to intercropped tree species, tree management and prevailing environmental conditions may assist farmers in managing agroforestry systems appropriately. Our study evaluated the management and spatial effect of six dominant tree species (Eucalyptus spp., Sesbania sesban, Grevillea robusta, Calliandra calothyrsus, Markhamia lutea and Croton macrostachyus) on water availability and crop performance in smallholders’ maize fields in Rift valley, Kenya. Maize performance under C. macrostachyus and M. lutea was also evaluated at on-station experiment in the same area. The smallholder farmers in the study area remain important maize producers in Kenya with an average maize yield of 6.5 tons ha−1 recorded. Maize yield under the dominant tree species in studied smallholder farms showed significant differences (P < 0.001) with leguminous species (C. calothyrsus and S. sesban) recording the highest amount of grain weight. Farmers selectively prune tree they perceive as competitive but still want to maintain them in the farms such as Eucalyptus spp. and G. robusta but miss to equally prune M. lutea and C. macrostachyus which would greatly improve performance of associated crops. In addition to presence of great tree management diversity, the study clearly showed that tree in smallholder farms either have competitive, complementary or balanced-off interaction with crops. Lastly, despite the adequate rainfall throughout the cropping season, dominant tree species in smallholder farms were shown to significantly (P < 0.0001) influence the spatial distribution of soil water.


Agroforestry systems Smallholder farms Crop performance Pruning Soil water availability 



This study is part of a PhD programme of the first author at JKUAT, Kenya, with funding from the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs as part of its special allocation on global food security and ICRAF as a part of Forest Trees and Agroforestry CRP (6.1). Additional funding by Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and Humidtropics, both CGIAR research programs, supported the co-authors.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)NairobiKenya
  2. 2.Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU)UppsalaSweden
  3. 3.Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT)NairobiKenya

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