Contour ridging is a widely used soil and water conservation practice in Southern Africa. However, in recent years, a number of investigators questioned the effectiveness of contour ridges in controlling surface runoff and soil erosion from smallholder farmers’ fields. To be an effective conservation practice, contour ridges must store infiltration excess surface runoff as surface depression storage in furrows between the ridges. In this study, three experimental runoff plots were established in Chilindamaji and six in Kamundi watershed in Malawi. Of the six plots in Kamundi, three had agroforestry contour hedgerows (AF1, AF2, and AF3) and the other three (K1, K2, and K3) had no contour hedgerows. None of the Chilindamaji plots (C1, C2, and C3) had agroforestry contour hedgerows. Hydrologic response analysis of data obtained from the nine runoff plots revealed that plots that retained more water as infiltration and surface depression storage had less runoff and soil erosion. For both sites, the average soil loss rates for the bare, 50% residue cover, and the contour ridge plots were 115, 66, and 5 ton/ha/year. The average soil loss rates for the three agroforestry plots were 4.2 ton/ha/year. Our results show that 50% residue cover reduced soil loss as compared to a bare soil, but are not as effective as the contour ridge and the agroforestry contour hedgerow treatments in reducing surface runoff and soil loss.
Key words: Contour ridges, infiltration, runoff, soil loss, agroforestry, residue cover.