Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 61, Issue 1–2, pp 159–170 | Cite as

Organic matter management for soil conservation and productivity restoration in Africa: a contribution from Francophone research

  • Eric RooseEmail author
  • Bernard Barthès


Soil fertility is closely linked to soil organic matter (SOM), whose status depends on input, i.e., mainly biomass management, and output, i.e., mineralization, erosion and leaching. Preliminary results from runoff plots and lysimeters on hillslopes in West Africa indicated that carbon losses by erosion and leaching ranged between 10 and 100 kg C ha−1 yr−1, depending on annual rainfall and vegetal cover. Under natural conditions, losses may be low enough to be compensated by aerial deposits. But together with mineralization, erosion can locally be an important cause of SOM decrease in cropping systems where there is poor soil cover, steep slopes and erosive rain conditions. The effect of previous erosion on cereal production was assessed in case studies from Rwanda, Burundi, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso. On the densely populated hillslopes of Rwanda, hedges and manure reduced runoff and erosion efficiently, but did not succeed in improving grain yields due to P-deficiency of these ferrallitic soils. In Burundi, under similar conditions but under banana plantation, tree density and mulch cover had a strong influence on erosion; this previous erosion had an important effect on the next maize yield, even when the soils were amended with manure, mineral fertilizers and lime. On sandy ferruginous soils of North Cameroon, erosion increased with increasing tillage intensity. Manure application increased grain yield, but burying organic residues did not improve SOM levels and soil resistance to erosion. Mulching and tillage limited to the plant rows protected the topsoil against erosion, but did not clearly increase the yield. Manuring permitted the restoration of soil productivity, but additional mineral fertilizers (P, N) were needed to reach rapidly a high level of grain production. In the same way, experiments conducted with traditional Zaï system for restoring a degraded Entisol in Burkina Faso showed that runoff harvesting and organic matter input were not sufficient with no additional N and P fertilizers. Complementary experiments in Cameroon showed that a 4-mm selective sheet erosion and a 50-mm non-selective de-surfacing resulted in similar yield decline. Long fallowing, burning and grazing are traditional ways to utilize available biomass in Africa. Considering social habits and technical realities, it seems useful to balance ‘grazing-manuring’ and mulching in order to protect the soil and maintain its productive capacity. Minimum tillage with mulch (crop residues, weeds or legume fallow) is the new trend used for increasing crop production, with the help of herbicides. Agroforestry that produces good-quality litter is also a part of the solution.

Africa carbon losses conservation erosion fertilizers hedges legumes manure mulch organic matter management restoration of soil productivity tillage 


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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IRD (ex-ORSTOM)MontpellierFrance
  2. 2.IRD (ex-ORSTOM)MontpellierFrance

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