Publication reviewRainfed subsistence farming systems in sub-Saharan Africa generally obtain low crop yields as a result of highly erratic rainfall seasons. This paper presents results of research conducted to test the effects of improvements in farming techniques for subsistence rainfed systems.
The research was carried out in the Makanya catchment of northern Tanzania where rainfall of less than 600 mm a?1 and spread over two agricultural seasons per year is clearly insufficient to support staple food crops under the present farming systems in the area. The research sought to prove that, with improved efficiency in tillage techniques, grain yields can improve even under the existing challenging hydro-climatic conditions.
The research tested farming system innovations (SIs) at four sites located within a spatial distance of 10 km where a combination of runoff diversion (RD), on-site rain water harvesting (WH) and conservation tillage (CT) were compared against the traditional farming methods of hand-hoeing under strict rainfed conditions (Control). For RD, runoff generated from natural storms was directed into infiltration pits dug along the contour with the excavated soil deposited upward of the trenches (fanya juus). The impact of these techniques on maize yields under different SIs was investigated.
The results showed that the innovations resulted in increased maize grain yields of up to 4.8 t ha?1 compared against current averages of less than 1 t ha?1. The average productivity of the available water over four seasons was calculated to range between 0.35 and 0.51 kg m?3. For the SIs that were tested, the distribution of yields within a cultivated strip showed variations with better yields obtained on the down slope side of the cultivated strip where ponding effects resulted in higher water availability for infiltration and storage. However, due to the large seasonal climate variability, statistical analysis did not show significant differences in the yields (p < 0.05) between different cultivation techniques.
The study showed that there is scope to improve grain yields with the little available rainfall through the adoption of techniques which promote water availability and retention within the field. The re-partitioning of water within the field creates mitigation measures against the impact of dry spells and allows alternative cropping in addition to the traditional maize cultivated in the rainfall seasons.