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Ramial wood amendments (Piliostigma reticulatum) mitigate degradation of tropical soils but do not replenish nutrient exports

Félix, G.; Clermont-Dauphin, C.; Hien, E.; Groot, J.; Penche, A.; Barthès, B. G.; Manlay, R. J.; Tittonell, P.; Cournac, L.
Restoring degraded soils to support food production is a major challenge for West African smallholders who have developed local innovations to counter further degradation. The objective of this study was to evaluate a local farmer's technique that uses ramial wood (RW) as soil amendment (Piliostigma reticulatum shrub). Three treatments were applied in an experimental plot in Burkina Faso: control (no amendment), low RW (3 Mg fresh mass·ha−1·yr−1), and high RW (12 Mg fresh mass·ha−1·yr−1). RW was chipped to <5-cm pieces and either buried or mulched. Topsoil carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) in control and low-RW treatments declined after 7 years of continuous sorghum cultivation. Use of high-RW amendment stabilized soil C content while N and P declined, thus not replenishing nutrient exports. Net contribution to soil C in the layer measuring 0–15 cm was 15% of the applied C in the high-RW amendments. Although biomass and grain yields were higher in high-RW treatments, crop productivity declined throughout the experiment for all treatments. Termite casts on RW treatments evidenced the potential role of wood-foraging termites in diluting the impact of RW on soil fertility build-up and soil water content. We conclude that mitigating soil degradation under semiarid conditions in Burkina Faso would require large amounts of woody amendments, particularly if the level of termite activity is high. Additional nutrient sources would be needed to compensate for removal in exported products so that biomass and grain production can be stabilized or increased.
Type of Publication:
Land Degradation {&} Development
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