Soil Modification by Native Shrubs Boosts Crop Productivity in Sudano-Sahelian Agroforestry System
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
A changing climate along with human and animal population pressure can have a devastating effect on crop yields and food security in the Sudano-Sahel. Agricultural solutions to address soil degradation and crop water stress are needed to combat this increasingly difficult situation. Significant differences in crop success have been observed in peanut and millet grown in association with two native evergreen shrubs Piliostigma reticulatum, and Guiera senegalensis at the sites of Nioro du Rip and Keur Matar, respectively.We investigate how farmers can increase crop productivity by capitalizing on the evolutionary adaptation of native shrubs to the harsh Sudano-Sahelian environment as well as the physical mechanisms at work in the system that can lead to more robust yields. Soil moisture and water potential data were collected during a dry season millet irrigation experiment where stress was imposed in the intercropped system. Despite lower soil moisture content, crops grown in association with shrubs have increased biomass production and a faster development cycle. Hydraulic redistribution is thought to exist in this system and we found diurnal fluctuations in water potential within the intercropped system that increased in magnitude of to 0.4 Mpa per day as the soil dried below 1.0 Mpa during the stress treatment. An isotopic tracer study investigating hydraulic redistribution was carried out by injecting labeled water into shrub roots and sampling shrubs and nearby crops for isotopic analysis of plant water. These findings build on work that was completed in 2004 at the site, but point to lower overall magnitude of diurnal soil water potential fluctuations in dry soils. Using even the limited resources that farmers possess, this agroforestry technique can be expanded over wide swaths of the Sahel.