Farmer managed research to assess legume intercropping in conservation agriculture systems in rural Zimbabwe
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The lack of adequate mulch and crop rotations are major constraints to the implementation of conservation agriculture (CA) for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. One possible solution to these constraints is intercropping the main cereal crop with a leguminous cover crop; a technology option that also has the potential to improve the food security and economic productivity of smallholder CA systems. This study used farmer managed research plots to assess the impacts of integrating different grain legumes (cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata), lablab (Lablab purpureus), and pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) into maize based CA farming systems in two semi-arid regions of Zimbabwe. The results from one cropping cycle (late 2015 to mid-2016) found that while there was a significant increase in total biomass production when an intercrop was added to the standard, mulched, monocropped CA maize crop at one site, there was no difference at the second (drier) site and that the addition of a legume intercrop reduced, but did not eliminate the need to add supplemental mulch to CA based farming systems. However, the addition of the cowpea intercrop in particular significantly increased the economic profitability and food security impacts of the farming system at both sites (an effect that was more pronounced at the drier site). Overall, this study found that intercropping of legumes into CA based systems had the potential to improve sustainability, productivity and profitability, resilience and food security impacts for the farmers involved in this study.