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Root development in a sesbania sesban fallow - maize system in Eastern Zambia

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Roots of trees (Sesbania sesban) and crops (Zea mays) were quantified during two tree/crop cycles in a sequential tree — crop system at Chipata Eastern Zambia. The experiment included one- and two-year fallows as well as fertilized and unfertilized controls. The roots of S. sesban represent a standing biomass in the soil of 3 Mg hat-1 in the top 1.5 m after two years with 45–60% and 70–75% being in the top 25 and 50 cm respectively. S. sesban fallow improved early rooting and growth of the following maize crop. Increased soil infiltration was also observed in the two-year fallow treatment as well as decreased bulk density and resistance to penetration in the soil. No differences between maize root parameters could be detected at tasselling nor differences between nutrient status of the different treatments. Study results indicate that under the drought-prone conditions of Eastern Zambia where improved soil physical conditions are important for early deep rooting of crops and access to water and nutrients tree roots could play an important role in the fallow effect. Further studies are required to assess the relative importance of the improvement of soil chemical and physical properties.

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