Diversity in crop residue management across an intensification gradient in southern Africa: System dynamics and crop productivity

Leonard Rusinamhodzi*, Marc Corbeels, Ken E. Giller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Crop residues are important for livestock feed and nutrient cycling among many other functions on smallholder farming systems of sub-Saharan Africa. The objective of this study was to assess differences in resource endowment, crop productivity and crop residue management in selected sites in southern Africa. Three sites were selected along a gradient of intensification of crop production; Murehwa, Zimbabwe and Ruaca and Gorongosa, central Mozambique. Murehwa and Ruaca have mixed crop-livestock systems with more intensive crop production in Murehwa. Gorongosa is predominantly crop based with small livestock that do not impact on crop production. A combination of land size and cattle ownership was the major attribute that defined wealth status among farmers in mixed crop-livestock systems whereas land size and labor availability were important under crop-based extensification systems. Farm systems were more diverse where livestock was more important. The wealthiest farmers (resource group-RG1) in Murehwa produced an average of 2.2 t ha-1 maize crop residues, and productivity decreased with decrease in resource ownership with the poorest (RG4) achieving only 0.8 t ha-1. In Ruaca 1.3 and 0.5 t ha-1 was produced by RG1 and RG4 respectively, whereas in Gorongosa 0.4 and 0.2 t ha-1 was produced by RG1 and RG4. These crop residues are insufficient to achieve the minimum threshold of soil cover (30%) required for the practice of conservation agriculture. However, they can provide sufficient feed to sustain livestock of RG1 farmers in Murehwa for 63 days and 54 days for RG2 farmers. In Ruaca, they can feed cattle for 37 days for RG1 and 17 days for RG2 farmers. The product of livestock × population density determined the extent and manner in which crop residues are used. The population density limited the extent of the grazing area, increased grazing frequency and reduced the grazing quality leading to the need to supplement animal feed with crop residues. Farmers preferentially allocate crop residues to livestock where labor is available. The crop residues fed to animals allow farmers to increase manure quantity and quality which explains the major differences in crop productivity between the different resource groups. In the absence of cattle, crop residues are burned before the cropping season to facilitate land clearance. In conclusion, land size, cattle ownership and labor availability largely define the intensity of crop production and the fate of crop residues on smallholder farms in southern Africa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-88
JournalField Crops Research
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Crop-livestock systems
  • Extensification
  • Farm diversity
  • Maize production
  • Smallholder farms


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