Smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are under increasing pressure due in part to climate change and soil degradation, with many farming households unable to achieve even basic food self-sufficiency. Conservation Agriculture (CA) is a possible solution to these challenges, but the lack of sufficient biomass for mulch has limited wide-scale adoption, and many farmers who practice CA resort to adding supplemental mulch to their CA plots. Legume intercropping would not only provide biological and nutritional diversity, it may also provide an in situ cover, thereby reducing the amount of mulch required for soil and water conservation. Farmer managed research experiments were used in two semi-arid areas of Zimbabwe to test whether intercropping a cereal crop [maize (Zea mays)] with a legume [cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata), lablab (Lablab purpureus) or pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan)] could increase the total amount of biomass produced. The experimental design included two replicates with legume species and presence or absence of mulch cover as factors in the design. Maize yields were increased more by adding mulch than by legume intercrops in the absence of mulch. Therefore, intercrops were not a substitute for mulch. However, adding intercrops did significantly increase the amount of total biomass (maize and intercrop dry matter) produced at the sites and therefore, in addition to contributing protein rich grains, intercrops may reduce the amount of mulch required for soil and water conservation in CA systems. Farmer participation allowed the research to be conducted in the context of small-holder CA.
Key words: Intercropping, cowpea, lablab, pigeon pea, soil conservation, farmer-based research.
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