Soil fertility constraints to small-scale agriculture in North-west Zambia

Symons, Julia (2008-03)

Thesis (MScAgric (Soil Science))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.


The soils of north-west Zambia are largely unexplored and are regarded by local residents as problematic in providing sufficient nutrients for the staple crop of maize in the area. The area is semi-tropical, with an average rainfall of 1300mm annum-1 falling predominantly in the summer. The undulating landscape is dominated by miombo woodland interspersed with savanna grassland. Little work has been done on these soils and further information is required to understand their origin and their fertility status. The main objectives of this thesis were: 1) to classify and sample soils from a large number of small-scale agricultural lands, 2) to develop a better understanding of these soils chemical characteristics, 3) to determine the effect of vegetation clearance on soil fertility by sampling adjacent uncultivated land, and 4) to test locally derived rock dust as a soil ameliorant in pot trial. Soils from 100 agricultural and adjacent bush/forest sites were classified and analysed to determine their fertility status. They were tentatively classified according to the WRB system and are dominated by Arenosols, Acrisols and Ferralsols with infrequent occurrences of Lixisols. Most of these soils have a sandy texture. The clay fraction comprises of gibbsite, kaolinite and hydroxyl-Al interlayered vermiculite (HIV), with a few soils also having some mica present. The soils are consistently acidic with 42% of soils sampled having a pH (KCl) <4.3. Furthermore, the subsoils proved to be equally if not more acidic than the topsoils. Low nutrient levels are invariably associated with the soil acidity, with 84% of soils having <15mg/kg P, 59% of soils <50 mg/kg K, 80% soils <300 mg/kg Ca, and 44% soils <80 mg/kg Mg. Comparisons between cultivated and bushland soils showed no consistent changes to the soil acidity and fertility. This is contrary to research that was reviewed but is likely to have been affected by the spatial variability of these soils arising from the termite dominated landscape and the soils having been derived from different parent materials. Amelioration of these soils is required in order to increase yields. It is thought that lime, used with an N, P, K, Zn and B fertilizer, will best remedy the deficiencies found in these soils. Using these nutrients could raise the yields of <1t.ha-1 to in excess of 5 t.ha-1. Local soil ameliorants of crushed rock, ash, compost, green manure and termite mounds were also considered with pulverised granite being tested through factorial pot trials to determine its usefulness as a source of K and alkalinity. It raised both soil pH and K levels but is of limited value as these rises were not significant enough to affect yield. It is recommended that future research should: 1) strategically sample across the district, classify soils and determine their fertility status; 2) compile a soil yield potential map and 3) undertake field trials to test the quantities and effectiveness of fertilizers alongside local soil ameliorants.

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