Resource flows, crops and soil fertility management in smallholder farming systems in semi-arid Zimbabwe

B. Ncube, S.J. Twomlow, J.P. Dimes, M.T. van Wijk, K.E. Giller

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25 Citations (Scopus)


Poor soil fertility and erratic rains are major constraints to crop production in semi-arid environments. In the smallholder farming systems of sub-Saharan Africa, these constraints are manifested in frequent crop failures and endemic food insecurity. We characterized a semi-arid smallholder farming system in south-western Zimbabwe to assess crop production, nutrient use and factors that constrain productivity. The farming system was studied using resource flow mapping, farmer interviews and calculations of crop production over three cropping seasons (2002/2003, 2003/2004 and 2004/2005) to capture variability between years. Farmers were categorized into three groups: better resourced, medium resourced and poorly resourced. Better resourced farmers produced adequate grain for basic household consumption, except in the drought year (2002/2003). Poorly resourced farmers had large grain deficits, whereas the medium resourced class had smaller deficits. Better resourced and medium resourced farmers produced adequate amounts of staple cereal in two of the seasons, while poorly resourced farmers produced inadequate amounts of food in all three seasons. All farmers produced less than 300 kg/ha of legumes per season. Lack of seed was cited as the main reason for poor legume production. Better resourced farmers used animal manure (2000¿5000 kg per season) and some fertilizer on their cereal crops, while the medium resourced group used less manure (1000 kg or less) and no fertilizer. The use of manure varied strongly across the years. Poorly resourced farmers used no nutrient inputs on any of their crops. All groups had negative nitrogen balances during the three cropping seasons, although the values varied strongly between seasons. Investigation of the potential strategies for developing sustainable production systems are required to address the problems of food security in the semi-arid parts of the country and the region
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-90
JournalSoil Use and Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • exploring diversity
  • western kenya
  • productivity
  • uganda
  • manure

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