Soil Moisture Conservation, Cropping Systems and Soil Fertility Effects on Soil and Maize Performance in Machakos County, Kenya
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The main causes of food insecurity in semi–arid parts of Kenya are low soil fertility, low and unreliable rainfall. These two causes are the main challenges facing small-scale farmers in food production especially in semi-arid areas of the country. To overcome these challenges, soil and water management technologies especially those in soil and water conservation need to be embraced. The aim of the study was to determine the effect of tied ridges, fertilizers and cropping systems on soil properties (moisture, pH and organic carbon), growth and yield parameters of maize; and to identify the most cost effective water and soil management technology. This study was carried out in four seasons at Katumani in Machakos County. The experiment was a 2 x 4 x 2 factorial, laid out in a randomized complete block design (RCBD). The treatments were: tied ridging, flat bed planting, farm yard manure 0 t/ha, farm yard manure 5 t/ha, nitrogen fertilizer 20 kg/ha, farm yard manure 5 t/ha + nitrogen fertilizer 20 kg/ha, maize mono crop and maize cowpea intercrop. Data collected included soil moisture content, soil pH, total organic carbon, growth parameters and maize yield. The results showed that, treatments with flat bed planting in maize mono crop significantly increased soil moisture content at 0–20cm depth as compared to tied ridging in maize cowpeas intercrop during short rains 2015. Application of farm yard manure at 5 t/ha increased soil moisture content at 2 and 4 weeks after planting. The soil moisture content ranged from 6.30% to 23.80%. During the short rains 2015, maize mono crop significantly increased vegetative growth in comparison to maize cowpeas intercrop. Treatment with flat bed and 20 kg N/ha in maize mono crop had the highest mean for vegetative growth. However, during the long rains 2016, treatment with tied ridging and 20 kg N/ha in maize mono crop registered the highest mean for vegetative growth. During the short rains 2015, treatments with maize mono crop significantly increased grain yield with a range of 1.35 t/ha 3.59 t/ha. Flat bed planting with farm yard manure 5 t/ha in maize cowpea intercrop significantly increased the grain yield by 165.93%. The harvest index during the short rains 2015 ranged between 0.35 and 0.48. Treatments with maize mono crop significantly increased gross benefit, net profit, gross margin and cost benefit ratio during short rains 2015 and long rains 2016. Application of farm yard manure 5 t/ha + 20 kg N/ha had the highest variable cost. The cost benefit ratio was positive during the short rains 2015 with a range of 1.47–2.98. The yield differences among the four seasons could have been as a result of variations/distribution in rainfall amount, soil moisture content and soil fertility as induced by the treatments. Flat bed planting increased the yields during the short rains 2015 when the amount of rainfall was high whereas tied ridging resulted in improved yields during short rains 2014, long rains 2015 and 2016 when rainfall amount was low. For the farmers to maximize yields and profits in the study area, adoption of flat bed planting with farm yard manure 5 t/ha and maize cowpeas intercrop during the seasons of high rainfall could be appropriate treatment combination according to the findings of this study. However, during seasons with low rainfall, tied ridging with 20 kg N/ha and maize mono crop could be recommended for adoption. Also, variations in seasonal rainfall should be considered when integrating different soil and water management practices because the effectiveness of different technologies vary with the seasons. Farmers in Machakos County may have to consider use of supplementary irrigation during the dry spells to increase soil moisture.