Jerry and Meaghan Kenney, program coordinators at the Borlaug Institute, are currently based at the Ukulima Farm Research Center in South Africa. Ukulima Farm is part of a new strategic partnership between the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture of the Texas A&M University System to promote African agricultural research, extension, and education. This Dispatch is the first in a series aimed at informing the public about the research being conducted by the research organizations currently working at the center.
Who: Brandon Lingbeek and Christopher D’Aiuto with Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO)
What: Trying to determine the most beneficial legumes for making green manure to improve soil biology and nutrients in low input systems
How: Develop a pre-test soil biology and nutrient baseline, particularly looking for nitrogen levels. Plant multiple legumes, including pigeon pea, cowpea, jack bean, sunhemp, fish bean, and lab lab and mucuna variations, in different mono-cropped and inter-cropped treatments for a variety test. Use low input farming techniques (no fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, irrigation, or machinery) characteristic of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Collect regular weather readings as well as soil and leaf temperature data, plant height, and other information. Test soil four times per year to determine nutrient content. Collect, dry, and grind biomass from each treatment. Send the biomass samples to SGS labs in Cape Town to test for nutrient content and the carbon nitrogen ratio. Repeat this process for several seasons in the same area to identify soil and biomass trends.
Biggest Challenges: Porcupine have been problematic in the maize/mucuna study and nematodes have been more of a minor problem. The main issue we are dealing with in the legumes is antecedent soil conditions, like compaction and herbicide and pesticide residuals from last season.
Interesting Finding: Some legumes, such as lab lab and mucuna, provide much better cover for suppressing weed growth.
Why Does this Matter?: If we can figure out which legumes grow well and improve soil biology and nutrient levels in semi-arid environments under low-input farming systems, then we can apply these findings to help smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa not only build but regenerate their soils.
Have a question or want to know more about Brandon and Chris’s research (or need a good pizza crust recipe)? Send them an email!
Christopher D’aiuto — firstname.lastname@example.org
Brandon Lingbeek — email@example.com