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Plant growth limitation and nutrient loss following piled burning in slash and burn agriculture

Abstract

In the forest zone of Cameroon, small-scale family farmers practicing traditional slash and burn practices achieve a clear field by piled burning of the branches and trunks of cleared vegetation. Plant growth inhibition on ash patches, and the risk of nutrient loss from these areas, was evaluated on field plots on which 0.5 t m−2 or 1.0 t m−2 of wood was piled and burnt, and in laboratory studies. The ash produced by burning was strongly alkaline, and laboratory bio-assessment studies showed that the saline, high pH conditions produced in ash patches prevented germination and plant growth for up to two wet seasons, as is observed in the field. Field and laboratory studies demonstrated rapid release (1 wet season) of K and S from the ash and the loss of a substantial portion of these nutrients from the soil profile by leaching. In contrast, leaching carries Mg from the ash gradually (3 to 4 wet seasons), while Ca, Cu, Zn and P are leached slowly. The nutrients contained in ash patches are considered at risk of loss both through leaching (K and S) and by erosion of ash (Ca, Mg, Cu, Zn and P). Farmers should be encouraged to spread ash patches prior to cultivation in order to exploit the nutrient content of ash and to lessen the risk of nutrient loss.

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Menzies, N.W., Gillman, G.P. Plant growth limitation and nutrient loss following piled burning in slash and burn agriculture. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 65, 23–33 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1021886717646

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1021886717646

  • Land clearing
  • Nutrient leaching
  • Shifting agriculture