Plant and Soil

, Volume 339, Issue 1–2, pp 35–50 | Cite as

Agronomic use efficiency of N fertilizer in maize-based systems in sub-Saharan Africa within the context of integrated soil fertility management

  • Bernard Vanlauwe
  • Job Kihara
  • Pauline Chivenge
  • Pieter Pypers
  • Ric Coe
  • Johan Six
Regular Article


Traditionally, crop production in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) depends primarily on mining soil nutrients. Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) is an approach for intensifying agriculture in SSA that aims at maximizing the agronomic efficiency (AE) of applied nutrient inputs. ISFM contains the following essential components: proper fertilizer management, use of improved varieties, the combined application of organic inputs and fertilizer, and adaptation of input application rates to within-farm soil fertility gradients where these are important. This paper evaluates, through meta-analysis, the impact of these components on the AE of fertilizer N (N-AE), defined as extra grain yield per kg fertilizer N applied, in maize-based systems in SSA. Since N-AE is low for excessive fertilizer N application rates or when fertilizer is applied on fertile, unresponsive soil, as was confirmed by scatter plots against control yields and fertilizer N application rates, such values were removed from the database in order to focus on and elucidate the more variable and complex responses under less than ideal conditions typical for SSA. Compared with local varieties, the use of hybrid maize varieties significantly increased N-AE values (17 and 26 kg (kg N)−1, respectively) with no differences observed between local and improved, open-pollinated varieties. Mixing fertilizer with manure or compost resulted in the highest N-AE values [36 kg (kg N)−1] while organic inputs of medium quality also showed significantly higher N-AE values compared with the sole fertilizer treatment but only at low organic input application rates (40 and 23 kg (kg N)−1, respectively). High quality organic inputs (Class I) and those with a high C-to-N ratio (Class III) or high lignin content (Class IV) did not affect N-AE values in comparison with the sole fertilizer treatment. Application of N fertilizer on infields resulted in significantly higher N-AE values [31 kg (kg N)−1] compared with the outfields [17 kg (kg N)−1]. The obtained information indicates that N-AE is amenable to improved management practices and that the various components embedded in the ISFM definition result in improvements in N-AE.


Improved maize germplasm Meta-analysis Organic-mineral applications Site-specific nutrient management Soil fertility gradients 



The authors gratefully acknowledge the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for supporting various workshops and discussion sessions during which the main ideas presented in this paper were developed. The Belgian Directorate General for Development Cooperation (DGDC) is also acknowledged for supporting scientific staff time in the context of the project on ‘Improving agriculture-based livelihoods in Central Africa through sustainably increased system productivity to enhance income, nutrition security, and the environment – CIALCA-II’. J. Six and P. Chivenge acknowledge the support by a grant from the US National Science Foundation (DEB: 0344971).


  1. Abuja Fertilizer Summit (2006) Abuja Declaration on Fertilizer for African Green Revolution, African Union Special Summit of the Heads of State and Government, Abuja, NigeriaGoogle Scholar
  2. Amanullah, Alkas LK (2009). Partial factor productivity, agronomic efficiency, and economic analyses of maize in wheat-maize cropping system in Pakistan. No. 46747. Southern Agricultural Economics Association Annual Meetings, Atlanta, Georgia, January31- February 3, 2009, 26 pp.Google Scholar
  3. Ainsworth EA, Rosenburg MS, Wang X (2007) Meta-analysis: the past, present and future. New Phytol 176:752–745CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bationo A, Ayuk E, Ballo D, Kon´e M (1997) Agronomic and economic evaluation of Tilemsi phosphate rock in different agroecological zones of Mali. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 48:179–189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chinsinga B (2008) Reclaiming Policy Space: Lessons from Malawi’s 2005/2006 Fertilizer Subsidy Programme Future Agricultures. Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, UKGoogle Scholar
  6. Denning G, Kabambe P, Sanchez P, Malik A, Flor R, Harawa R, Nkhoma P, Zamba C, Banda C, Magombo C, Keating M, Wangila J, Sachs J (2009) Input Subsidies to Improve Smallholder Maize Productivity in Malawi: Toward an African Green Revolution. PLOS Biol 7(1):e1000023CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dobermann A, Cassman KG (2004) Environmental dimensions of fertilizer nitrogen: what can be done to increase nitrogen use efficiency and ensure global food security? In: Mosier AR, Syers JK, Freney JR (eds) Agriculture and the nitrogen cycle: Assessing the impacts of fertilizer use on food production and the environment. Island Press, Washignton DC, USA, pp 261–278Google Scholar
  8. FAO (1991) World Soil Resources: An Explanatory Note on the FAO World Soil Resources Map at 1:25, 000, 000 Scale. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Rome, ItalyGoogle Scholar
  9. Gentile R, Vanlauwe B, Chivenge P, Six J (2008) Interactive effects from combining fertilizer and organic residue inputs on nitrogen transformations. Soil Biol Biochem 40:2375–2384CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gurevitch J, Hedges LV (1999) Statistical issues in ecological meta-analyses. Ecology 80:1142–1149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Heisey P W, Mwangi W (1996) Fertilizer use and maize production in sub-Saharan Africa. CIMMYT economic working paper 96-01. Mexico, DF, CIMMYTGoogle Scholar
  12. Hungate BA, van Groenigen KJ, Six J, Jastrow JD, Luo Y, de Graaff MA, van Kessel C, Osenberg CW (2009) Assessing the effect of elevated carbon dioxide on soil carbon: a comparison of four meta-analyses. Global Change Biol 15:2020–2034CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Janssen BH, Guiking FCT, van der Eijk D, Smaling EMA, Wolf J, van Reuler H (1990) A system for quantitative evaluation of the fertility of tropical soils (QUEFTS). Geoderma 46:299–318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Jenkinson DS, Fox RH, Rayner JH (1985) Interactions between fertilizer nitrogen and soil nitrogen – the so-called ‘priming’ effect. J Soil Sc 36:425–444CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Johnson GV, Raun WR (2003) Nitrogen response index as a guide to fertilizer management. J Plant Nutr 26:249–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kihara J, Vanlauwe B, Waswa B, Kimetu JM, Chianu J, Bationo A (2010) Strategic phosphorus application in legume-cereal rotations increases land productivity and profitability in western Kenya. Exp Agric 46:35–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ladha JK, Pathak H, Krupnik TJ, Six J, van Kessel C (2005) Efficiency of fertilizer nitrogen in cereal production: Retrospects and prospects. Adv Agr 87:85–156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Palm CA, Gachengo CN, Delve RJ, Cadisch G, Giller KE (2001) Organic inputs for soil fertility management in tropical agroecosystems: application of an organic resource database. Agric Ecosyst Environ 83:27–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Piha MI (1993) Optimizing fertilizer use and practical rainfall capture in a semi-arid environment with variable rainfall. Exp Agric 29:405–415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Pixley K, Banziger M (2001) Open-pollinated maize varieties: A backward step or valuable option for farmers? Seventh Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Maize Conference, 11–15th February 2001, pp. 22–28Google Scholar
  21. Roberts TL (2008) Improving Nutrient Use Efficiency. Turk J Agric For 32:177–182Google Scholar
  22. SAS 1992. The MIXED procedure. SAS Technical Report P-229: SAS/STAT Software: Changes and Enhancements. SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC, USAGoogle Scholar
  23. Sileshi G, Akinnifesi FK, Ajayi OC, Place F (2008) Meta-analysis of maize yield response to woody and herbaceous legumes in sub-Saharan Africa. Plant Soil 307:1–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Tittonell P, Vanlauwe B, Leffelaar PA, Shepherd KD, Giller KE (2005) Exploring diversity in soil fertility management of smallholder farms in western Kenya. II. Within farm variability in resource allocation, nutrient flows and soil fertility status. Agric Ecosyst Environ 110:166–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Tittonell P, Vanlauwe B, de Ridder N, Giller KE (2007) Heterogeneity of crop productivity and resource use efficiency within smallholder African farms: soil fertility gradients or management intensity gradients? Agr Syst 94:376–390CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Tittonell P, Vanlauwe B, Corbeels M, Giller KE (2008) Yield gaps, nutrient use efficiencies and response to fertilisers by maize across heterogeneous smallholder farms of western Kenya. Plant Soil 313:19–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Uribelarrea M, Crafts-Brandner SJ, Below FE (2009) Phsiological N response of field-grown maize hybrids (Zea mays L.) with divergent yield potential and grain protein concentration. Plant Soil 316:151–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Vanlauwe B, Wendt J, Diels J (2001a) Combined application of organic matter and fertilizer. In: Tian G, Ishida F, Keatinge JDH (eds) Sustaining Soil Fertility in West-Africa, SSSA Special Publication Number 58. Madison, USA, pp 247–280Google Scholar
  29. Vanlauwe B, Aihou K, Aman S, Iwuafor ENO, Tossah BK, Diels J, Sanginga N, Merckx R, Deckers S (2001b) Maize yield as affected by organic inputs and urea in the West-African moist savanna. Agron J 93:1191–1199CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Vanlauwe B, Palm CA, Murwira HK, Merckx R (2002a) Organic resource management in sub-Saharan Africa: validation of a residue quality-driven decision support system. Agronomie 22:839–846CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Vanlauwe B, Diels J, Aihou K, Iwuafor ENO, Lyasse O, Sanginga N, Merckx R (2002b) Direct interactions between N fertilizer and organic matter: evidence from trials with 15 N labelled fertilizer. In: Vanlauwe B, Diels J, Sanginga N, Merckx R (eds) Integrated Plant Nutrient Management in sub-Saharan Africa: From Concept to Practice. CABI, Wallingford, UK, pp 173–184Google Scholar
  32. Vanlauwe B, Tittonell P, Mukalama J (2006) Within-farm soil fertility gradients affect response of maize to fertilizer application in western Kenya. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 76:171–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Vanlauwe B, Bationo A, Chianu J, Giller KE, Merckx R, Mokwunye U, Ohiokpehai O, Pypers P, Tabo R, Shepherd K, Smaling E, Woomer PL, Sanginga N (2010) Integrated soil fertility management: Operational definition and consequences for implementation and dissemination. Outl on Agric 39:17–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Wallace MB, Knausenberger WJ (1997) Inorganic fertilizer use in Africa: Environmental and Economic dimensionsGoogle Scholar
  35. Zingore S, Murwira HK, Delve RJ, Giller KE (2007) Soil type, management history and current resource allocation: Three dimensions regulating variability in crop productivity on African smallholder farms. Field Crops Res 101:296–305CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernard Vanlauwe
    • 1
  • Job Kihara
    • 1
  • Pauline Chivenge
    • 2
  • Pieter Pypers
    • 1
  • Ric Coe
    • 3
  • Johan Six
    • 2
  1. 1.Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (TSBF-CIAT)NairobiKenya
  2. 2.Department of Plant SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  3. 3.World Agroforestry CentreNairobiKenya

Personalised recommendations