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Agroforestry with contour planting of grass contributes to terrace formation and conservation of soil and nutrients on sloping land

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In hilly areas, agroforestry can be a more sustainable way of producing food and other products and services than agriculture based on sole-cropping. However, research is needed to evaluate and quantify formation of natural terraces in agroforestry and their contribution to soil conservation. This study quantified natural terrace formation and examined its role in reducing soil and nutrient losses during early stages of agroforestry with fruit trees, contour grass strips and maize or coffee in agroforestry systems on sloping land in northwest Vietnam. Two agroforestry systems, comprising longan (Dimocarpus longan L.)-mango (Mangifera indica L.)-maize (Zea mays L.)-guinea grass (Panicum maximum Jacq.) (fruit-maize-AF) and son tra (Docynia indica (Wall.) Decne.)-coffee (Coffea arabica L.)-guinea grass (fruit-coffee-AF) were compared with sole-cropped maize (sole-maize) and sole-cropped coffee (sole-coffee), respectively. Terrace formation was evaluated over five years using erosion pins placed above grass strips and the volume of terrace formed was estimated. Soil and nutrient losses were quantified using soil traps. The results showed that terraces formed as the systems developed, through gradual deposition of soil sediment above the living grass strips and trees. Accumulated soil sedimentation above the grass strips during the five-year study period raised the soil surface by 4.0 cm in fruit-maize-AF and 4.2 cm in fruit-coffee-AF, and the volume of terraces generated by the grass strips was 0.26 and 0.43 m3/m respectively. The fruit-maize-AF and fruit-coffee-AF systems significantly reduced losses of soil, soil organic carbon (SOC) and associated nutrients (N, P, K) compared with sole-maize and sole-coffee already in the first two years, while the reductions were greater from year 3 onwards. On average across experiments and years, the agroforestry systems reduced soil, SOC, N, P and K losses by 27–76%, 21–78%, 20–82%, 24–82% and 22–84%, respectively. These findings show that agroforestry with fruit trees, grass strips and crops could be a useful management practice and viable option for sustainable agricultural systems on sloping land, by reducing soil (and carbon and nutrient) losses through terrace formation.

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