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Smallholders’ Soil Fertility Management in the Central Highlands of Ethiopia: Implications for Nutrient Stocks, Balances and Sustainability of Agroecosystems

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Abstract

Low agricultural productivity caused by soil degradation is a serious problem in the Ethiopian Highlands. Here, we report how differences in soil fertility management between farming systems, based either on enset (Ensete ventricosum) or on teff (Eragrostis tef) as the major crops, affect the extent of nutrient stocks, balances and ecosystem sustainability. We collected information on farmers’ resources and nutrient management practices from stratified randomly selected households in two watersheds in the Central Highlands of Ethiopia. In addition, we collected soil samples from each land use and calculated nutrient stocks, partial and full nutrient balances (N, P and K) for one cropping season. Our results show that farmers in the two farming systems manage their soils differently and that nutrient inputs were positively related to farmers’ wealth status. The watershed with the enset-based system had higher soil N and K stocks than the watershed with the teff-based system, while P stocks were not different. Management related N␣and K fluxes were more negative in the teff-based system (−28 kg N ha−1 yr−1 and −34 kg K ha−1 yr−1) than in the enset-based system (−6 kg N ha−1 yr−1 and −14 kg K ha−1 yr−1) while P fluxes were almost neutral or slightly positive. Within the enset-based system, a strong redistribution of N, P and K took place from the meadows and cereals (negative balance) to enset (positive balances). Although in the teff-based system, N, P and K were redistributed from meadows, small cereals and pulses to maize, the latter still showed a negative nutrient balance. In contrast to nutrient balances at land use level, nutrient balances at the watershed scale masked contrasting areas within the system where nutrient oversupply and deficiencies occurred.

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Acknowledgments

The Catholic Academic Foreign Service (KAAD) is gratefully acknowledged for supporting this research. We also thank Farm Africa (Ethiopia), Dr. Demel Teketay and Kindu Mekonnen for their invaluable support during the field mission.

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Correspondence to Joerg A. Priess.

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This paper is dedicated to the 75th birthday of Prof. Dr. H. Fölster to honour his contributions to soil science.

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Haileslassie, A., Priess, J.A., Veldkamp, E. et al. Smallholders’ Soil Fertility Management in the Central Highlands of Ethiopia: Implications for Nutrient Stocks, Balances and Sustainability of Agroecosystems. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 75, 135–146 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10705-006-9017-y

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