Management of biological N2 fixation in alley cropping systems: Estimation and contribution to N balance
Danso, S. K. A.
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Alley cropping is being widely tested in the tropics for its potential to sustain adequate food production with low agricultural inputs, while conserving the resource base. Fast growth and N yield of most trees used as hedgerows in alley cropping is due greatly to their ability to fix N2 symbiotically with Rhizobium. Measurements of biological N2 fixation (BNF) in alley cropping systems show that some tree species such as Leucaena leucocephala, Gliricidia sepium and Acacia mangium can derive between 100 and 300 kg N ha-1 yr-1 from atmospheric N2, while species such as Faidherbia albida and Acacia Senegal might fix less than 20 kg N ha-1 yr-1. Other tree species such as Senna siamea and S. spectabilis are also used in alley cropping, although they do not nodulate and therefore do not fix N2. The long-term evaluation of the potential or actual amounts of N2 fixed in trees however, poses problems that are associated with their perennial nature and massive size, the great difficulty in obtaining representative samples and applying reliable methodologies for measuring N2 fixed. Strategies for obtaining representative samples (as against the whole tree or destructive plant sampling), the application of 15N procedures and the selection criteria for appropriate reference plants have been discussed.