On-farm evaluation of the effects of the principles and components of conservation agriculture on maize yield and weed biomass in Malawi
Ngwira, A.R.; Aune, J.B.; Thierfelder, C.
An on-farm study was conducted from 2009 to 2012 with communities in the Manjawira, Mpingu and Zidyana Extension Planning Areas in the Ntcheu, Lilongwe and Nkhotakota districts of central Malawi. The aim of the study was to evaluate the effects of the principles (no-tillage and mulching) and components (fertilization and weeding) of conservation agriculture (CA) on crop productivity and weeds, and the interactions between principles and components, and to suggest strategies for introducing CA to smallholder farmers. The treatments consisted of tillage, fertilizer application, residues management and weed control strategies. While combined analysis showed that mulching is as effective as tillage in controlling weeds, the interaction between site and treatment revealed that in the more humid environment of Zidyana, weed dry matter obtained under no-tillage and residues plus fertilizer (NT+F+R) was 0.6 mg ha−1 lower than under CP+F. Results suggest that about 6.0 mg ha−1 of mulch is required to have a similar effect as tillage in controlling weeds. Fertilizer had an overriding effect on maize yield, regardless of tillage and crop residue management. Mulching was beneficial over tillage in the drier environment of Manjawira, where maize yield obtained under NT+F+R was 1.2 mg ha−1 greater than under CP+F. Our results show that the introduction of no tillage has benefits only if it is accompanied by fertilizer application, retention of crop residues as surface mulch, and improved weed control. Increasing availability and accessibility of inputs (fertilizers and herbicides) to farmers is critical for adoption of CA at scale in Malawi.