Effects of conservation agriculture on runoff, soil loss and crop yield under rainfed conditions in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia

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Published in Soil Use and Management 27(3): 404-414, 2011

Effects of conservation agriculture on runoff, soil loss and crop yield under rainfed conditions in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia

Tesfay Araya, W. M. Cornelis, J. Nyssen, B. Govaerts, H. Bauer, Tewodros Gebreegziabher, Tigist Oicha, D. Raes, K. D. Sayre, Mitiku Haile and J. Deckers

The aim of conservation agriculture (CA) is to improve soil quality and crop yield whilst reducing runoff and topsoil erosion. An experiment was carried out in a rainfed field using a permanent raised bed planting system for 3 yr (2005–2007) in Adigudem, northern Ethiopia in order to evaluate the effect of CA on runoff, soil loss and crop yield. CA practices were introduced in fields with Vertisols in a randomized complete block design on permanent 5 × 19 m plots. Three treatments were evaluated: (1) conventional tillage (CT) with a minimum of three tillage operations and removal of crop residues, (2) terwah (TER) that was similar to CT except that contour furrows were included at 1.5 m intervals, and (3) derdero+ (DER+), which consists of permanent raised beds with a furrow and bed system, retention of 30% of standing crop residues and zero tillage on the top of the bed. All ploughing as well as the maintenance of the furrows of the permanent raised beds was done using a local ard plough called maresha. Results from monitoring over 3 yr showed that soil loss and runoff were significantly higher (< 0.05) in CT followed by TER and DER+. Average soil losses of 5.2, 20.1 and 24.2 t/ha were recorded from DER+, TER and CT, respectively. Runoff was 46.3, 76.3 and 98.1 mm from DER+, TER and CT, respectively. Grain yield was significantly lower (< 0.05) in DER+ under teff in 2006, probably due to the high sensitivity of teff to weeds. The yield of wheat in 2007 was significantly higher in DER+ followed by TER. The terwah system is recommended as a first measure for wider adoption to reduce runoff and soil loss and to increase crop yield. The long-term goal is to achieve a derdero+ system, i.e. a permanent raised bed planting system along with the application of crop residues.

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