Infiltration and planting pits for improved water management and maize yield in semi-arid Zimbabwe

Posted by Carelia Juarez on , in Journal Articles

Published in Agricultural Water Management 141 30-46, 2014.

Nyakudya, I.W.; Stroosnijder, L.; Nyagumbo, I.

Realising that rainwater harvesting (RWH) improves crop productivity, smallholder farmers in semi-arid Zimbabwe modified contour ridges traditionally used for rainwater management by digging infiltration pits inside contour ridge channels in order to retain more water in crop fields. However, scientific studies on crop yield benefits of infiltration pits have not been conclusive. Combining field-edge RWH methods such as contour ridges with infiltration pits with in-field practices may enhance crop yield benefits. Thus, the objective of the study was to assess soil moisture and maize yield improvement of combining infiltration and planting pits. Field experiments were conducted in Rushinga, Zimbabwe for three seasons at three sites using a split-plot design: main-plot factor, field-edge rainwater management method (RWMM); and split-plot factor, tillage method. Soil moisture content was measured weekly using gravimetric and Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR) methods. A household and field survey to establish farmers’ perceptions, typology and availability of field-edge RWMM was conducted. In order to share experiences and enhance stakeholders’ learning, field days were held. Lateral movement of soil water was measured up to 2 m downslope from infiltration pits, hence infiltration pits did not improve maize yield and soil moisture content in the cropping area. Maize yield (kg ha−1) was 45% higher under conventional tillage (2697) than planting pits (1852) but the yield gap decreased from 90 to 30% in the first and third year respectively. The value of infiltration pits is in reducing soil erosion by water and growing high value horticultural crops inside and close to pits, a view shared by host farmers and other stakeholders. Planting pits are an option for farmers without access to draught power and a fall-back method. Research is required to determine soil moisture, maize yield benefits and waterlogging risk in fields with underlying impermeable layers that enhance lateral flow of water.

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