Netherlands Journal ofAgricultural Science 48 (2000) 213-236

Cropping systems and crop complementarity in dryland
agriculture to increase soil water use efficiency: a review
International Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), B.P. 12404, Niamey, Niger;
present address: Creative Point Consult, Mezenlaan 138,6951 HR Dieren, the Netherlands
2 International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA),
P.O. Box 5466, Aleppo, Syria
3 International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA),
P.O. Box 5466, Aleppo, Syria; present address: Department for International Agriculture,
Swiss College of Agriculture, Laenggasse 85, CH-3052 Zollikofen, Switzerland
4 International Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), B.P. 12404, Niamey, Niger;
present address: Universite Catholique de Louvain, AGRO/MILNGERU, Croix du sud 2/2,
B-1348 Louvain-Ia-Neuve, Belgium
5 ARC-Institute for soil, Climate & Water, P.O. Bag X79, 0001 Pretoria, South Africa
• corresponding author (fax: +31-313-414542; e-mail:

Received 4 May 2000; accepted 17 November 2000

Dryland agriculture under rainfed conditions is found mainly in Africa, the Middle East,
Asia, and Latin America. In the harsh environments of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and West
Asia and North Africa (WANA), water is the principal factor limiting crop yield. A review
has been carried out on soil and crop management research that can increase the water use
The WANA production systems are dominated by cereals, primarily wheat in the wetter
and barley in the drier areas, in rotation with mainly food legumes such as chickpea, lentil
and forage legumes. The SSA production systems are generally characterized by cereal!
legume mixed-cropping dominated by maize, millet, sorghum, and wheat. The major constraints in both regions to crop production are low soil fertility, insecure rainfall, low-productive genotypes, low adoption of improved soil and crop management practices, and lack
of appropriate institutional support.
Different cropping systems and accompanying technologies are discussed as well as
selected examples of impact of these technologies. Results indicate that there is an advantage
to apply these technologies but being function of socio-economic and bio-physical conditions. It is recommended that future research focuses on integrated technology development while taking into account also different levels of scale such as field, village, and watershed.
Keywords: water use efficiency, impact, rainfed, technologies, West Asia, Africa

Netherlands Journal ofAgricultural Science 48 (2000)



Recent agricultural research has resulted in innovations which enable farmers to increase their yields. Mechanization of farm operations, proper and timely tillage and
sowing, planting geometry, new crop varieties, use of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides in suitable crop rotations all contribute to the increase and stabilization of
agricultural production. However, across wide tracts of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)
and West Asia and North Africa (WANA), water scarcity is a major factor limiting
agricultural production for millions of resource-poor dryland farmers. The small total amount of rain combined with its erratic and unreliable occurrence constrain the
achievement of stable, sustainable production systems providing satisfactory, lowrisk livelihoods. The occurrence of periods of water deficit for crop production, referred to as 'climatic drought', is commonly observed and leads to low water availability for crops. Besides climatic drought, crop water stress may also result from
low levels of plant available water in the soil profile due either to the existence of
physical barriers to water infiltration (e.g., surface sealing) or to soil chemical or
physical limitations to plant root growth and root water uptake. Drought resulting
from such factors will be referred to as 'edaphic drought' since it is caused by soilspecific conditions rather than by limited rainwater supply, and can occur even under
conditions of sufficient and well-distributed rainfall. Finally, even where water is
very scarce, particularly in the driest areas, a surprisingly small proportion of the
available water is actually transpired by the crop. Non-productive losses include surface runoff, deep drainage, evaporation from the soil surface and deep cracks, and
transpiration by weeds.
Within this context, innovations in soil and crop management are sought by agricultural scientists to make maximum use of the water available for crop growth. In
general, in addition to soil fertility management, two main agronomic strategies have
been identified to increase water use efficiency: soil and water management, and
cropping system management. Figure I illustrates for representative countries of
SSA and WANA the considerable variations in rainfall both within and between
countries as well as the unequal distribution of rainfall throughout the year. This
rainfall variability, combined with large variations in other climatic factors as well as
large differences in soil types, makes it hard for scientists to develop general "blue
print" solutions, but rather necessitates the development of site-specific technologies to help the resource-poor farmers of WANA and SSA.
This paper reviews the present status of research on cropping systems and crop
complementarity in dryland agriculture in the light of increasing water-use efficiency (WUE). An example of a decision tree on how to optimize soil water use, and examples of impact of relevant techniques are presented. The paper focuses on representative countries of the WANA and SSA regions (i.e. Burkina Faso, Egypt, Iran,
Jordan, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, South Africa, Syria, Turkey, and Zimbabwe)
that are members of the Optimizing Soil Water Use (OSWU) Consortium. It is beyond the scope of the review to present all details, and if needed, the reader is requested to refer to Van Duivenbooden et ai. (1999: e.g., chapters on each country) or
the original articles.

Netherlands Journal ofAgricultural Science 48 (2000)

May June July Aug. yearly) scales.."anallOll" ilhin CUUnlry Figure 1. Sept. Nln'. Apr. total biomass per unit irrigation water. for instaoce at: (i) the watershed scale. Feb. seasonal. Long-term average rainfall and its monthly distribution in the course of the year in the crop production areas of the 12 member countries of the Optimizing Soil Water Use Consortium representing West Asia. .tribution (% of total): 0) .. as the ratio of the amouot of biomass produced to the amount of water flowing into this watershed (precipitation) minus the amouot of water flowing out [kg biomass per m3 water or kg per mm]. (iii) the field scale. irrigation water.) to the amount of water evapotranspired (i_e_. or mass of hydrocarbons stored per unit water transpired. (evapo-)transpired water. as the ratio of the economic value of the produce to the amount of water consumed by the crop (US$ per m3 water). Bee. WUE refers to the ratio of the amount of water used to achieve a given output.rainfall. WUE can be defined at different spatial and temporal (daily. tuber yield. etc. (ii) the farm scale. Both the 'type' of water whose use is being optimized . as Netherlands Journal ofAgricultural Science 48 (2000) 215 . etc_ . weekly. Regarding spatial scales. 50-)600 50-550 200-600 200-500 North Mrica Egypt 100-170 Morocco 200-450 East Africll Kenya Southern Africa South Africa (winter) South Africa (summer) Zimbabwe West Africa Burkina Faso Mali Niger 500-800 250-500 400-900 50-1400 300-1200 150-3000 100-900 Di. grain yield. North Africa (WANA) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).INCREASE OF SOIL WATER USE EFFICIENCY IN DRYLAND AGRICULTURE Region/country West Asia Imn Jordan Syria Turkey Rainflill (mm)* Del. as the ratio of the amount of biomass produced (total dry malter. Mar. (iv) the individual plant scale. Definition of Water-Use Efficiency (WUE) In it most general sense. it can be defined.Ian. transpiration by crop and evaporation from soil) [kg biomass per mm water evapotranspired].and the type of output vary accordiog to the process that is beiog optimized aod the objectives of the optimization process_ WUE may therefore refer to crop yield per unit rainfall. to cite but a few definitions_ In addition.

N. showing the wide range of soil physical and chemical constraints for which solutions are required. in the form of soil erosion and loss of soil organic matter and essential nutrients... and conserving farming resources and promoting sustainable agriculture has been documented (Osman et al. manure supply). their contribution to subsequent cereal productivity through biologically fixed N. and to provide more flexible weed-control options offers a means of alleviating soil degradation in the face of inevitable crop intensification in dry areas. Legume cultivation to increase soil organic matter.repeated sowing is common. PALA. and the calculation procedures should be clearly explained. etc.. stubble grazing. There are two distinct management periods.g. and allows exploitation of the long rainy season during good years.. 1990. M. is an increasing problem in both regions. Intercropping enables spreading of risks over two contrasting crops and of labour peaks. Depending on the agro-ecological zone. Dryland agriculture and its traditional crop production systems In both WANA and SSA.. Wiltshire & du Preez. the crop production systems are integrated closely with livestock production (e. BEUKES the ratio of the amount of biomass produced to the amount of water transpired by the plant (kg biomass per mm water transpired). In this paper. and external inputs such as fertilizers or pesticides are insufficiently applied or not at all. WUE should be replaced with more specific definitions such as precipitation-use efficiency (PUE). Harris et al. the meaning of WUE may vary from source to source according to the prevailing norms and procedures used in different countries and the origin of the data. 1998). The integration of legumes in the cropping systems can also reduce soil erosion substantially (Zougmore et al. transpiration efficiency (TE). crops are grown either as a mono-culture or as an intercrop with a legume at low planting density. to fix nitrogen and spare soil mineral N. Under semi-arid climatic conditions.L. As a consequence. Their main characteristics are listed in Table 1. to eliminate cereal diseases. STUDER. the soil and water 216 Netherlands Journal ofAgricultural Science 48 (2000) . The first is the period of rain storage lasting from harvesting of the previous crop till sowing of the next.mainly due to prolonged dry spells . 1994). Soil degradation. Because of crop establishment problems .. Generally. Muehlbauer & Keiser. weeding is done by hand. For both regions. 1991. for breaking disease and pest cycles. Strategies to optimize water-use efficiency The basic principle of efficient water-use for plant production lies in optimizing each of the components of the soil water balance. C. VAN DUIVENBOODEN. C. Bationo et al. the importance of legumes for nutritious food and feed. 1993. 1991.l. BIELDERS AND D. This is particularly important if WUE is not considered as yield over evapotranspiration. irrigation water-use efficiency (IWUE). Planting densities depend on the expected rainfall and the soil type.

wind and Driest part: water and water erosion wind erosion Wetter part: water erosion OM = Organic Matter. vertisols 10. or lentil (winter or spring-sown). cambisols.. solonetz." Cereal-based production system !2. vertisols.:.000(2) (chickpea) 40-180(3) barley Same as West Asia 5.000(2) (maize) 30... sunflower.. water and Low pH (locally).I . WR: Winter Rain..000--40. wheat in rotation with either fallow or barley. faba bean. Arenosols.. ~ ~ il<l . highCaCO J Low OM. slope.I . depth and stoniness CJ Additional problems High pH. 00 W <. Nand P Low OM. Selected main characteristics of traditional production systems in dry areas of WANA and SSA. maize Transition: mix of above crops Driest part: millet Wetter part: maize. Table 1.. barley .J trI >en '"Ii Livestock (. K = Potassium. crusting. goats and cattle ~ Planting densities 15. wind and water erosion -< Z ~ -< t""' >Z CJ >0 ~ n c::: t""' . goats and cattle Sheep.. barley or forage legumes >350 mm... or melon. lithosols. chickpea. low Nand P. cambisols ~ IV ." "'"-1'. xerosols 0 F ~ >.. sunflower. ...." ~ i5' :::: . Z (j ~ 0 E" .. and stoniness variable texture. sorghum.000-10.. 12"' West Asia North Africa West Africa East Africa Southern Africa <350 mm: barley in rotation with fallow.. highCaCO J Low OM. ferralsols. cowpea Wetter part: sorghum. N = Nitrogen..000(2)unfavourable conditions .-. (3): kg ha.. Planting densities: (I): hills ha. wheat. low N. depth.. (2): plants ha. goats and cattle Sheep..000 (I) 70.. water and wind erosion High pH.:..000-80. acrisols. soil compaction. SR: Summer Rain. Nand P Low OM. P. lithosols.:. K (locally) (j Soil miscellaneous Variable texture.. and stoniness variable depth. acrisols.. c::: ~ trI . groundnut Transition: mix of above crops SR: maize..000-50. !2. slope.000(2) (sorghum) SR: 15--40(3) (wheat) WR: 100-130(3) (wheat) Arenosols. - Xerosols.000-32.I Low pH. luvisols. sorghum WR: wheat. <... :::: trI en Sheep and goats Sheep and goats Sheep. P = Phosphorus. N.000(2) favourable conditions < 20. trI ~ c::: en trI trI '"Ii '"Ii n tTl Z Soil fertility Low OM. '". groundnut. soil Low pH. surface wind erosion compaction sealing.000(2) (sunflower) 50..~ . and slope.. . texture: >65% sand and <18% clay Shallow with petroptinthite horizons Variable texture.. Soil type Xerosols. depth. cambisols regosols Luvisols. luvisols. or sesame (spring) Same as West Asia Driest part: millet.

and plant cover. depth. Tillage Tillage operations (with their form. M. (ii) to promote infiltration. although land slopes can be modified by building terraces. runs off. The severity of runoff is a function of rainfall quantity and intensity. land slope. I = irrigation. BEUKES management strategies during this period should aim at maximizing soil water storage. either directly by surface sealing (or crusting) or indirectly by slow subsurface percolation. soil and surface characteristics. ~S = change in the water content in the potential root zone. lasting from sowing till harvesting of the crop. The soil water balance can then be rearranged in the following form: T= P+I± ~S ± D± R. and (iv) to prevent wind and water erosion. The growing season is the second management period. (iii) to conserve water within the soil profile. Otherwise. and T = transpiration. VAN DUIVENBOODEN. 0 = downward drainage out of the root zone (-) or upward capillary flow into the root zone (+). Soil and water management Efficient capture of rainwater by the soil requires that the infiltration rate equals the rainfall intensity for the entire duration of a storm. in all but the lightest soils it is necessary to wait until the early rains have cumulatively wetted the soil sufficiently to per218 Netherlands Journal ofAgricultural Science 48 (2000) . and is lost to the soil-crop water economy at that place. and timing) and the management of crop residues are important in water conservation.. c.J.T (1) where. P = precipitation. C. conventional tillage has mainly four purposes: (i) to prepare a seedbed. PALA.L. Where the land has been untilled since the previous harvest. The soil water balance during the period of rain storage can be written as follows: ~S = P+I± D± R~E. BIELDERS AND D. Previous research has mainly concentrated on soil physical characteristics and how to ameliorate the limitations they impose on infiltration. Surface crusting and restricted infiltration are also widespread problems in dry areas and may limit tillage opportunities. STUDER. In rainfed agriculture in semi-arid regions. R = runoff (-) or runon (+). and thereby leading to maximum plant production. at maximizing the gains and minimizing the losses in equation 1. only the last two are potentially subject to control on a routine basis. the excess water ponds on the soil.e. the parameters on the right hand side of equation 2 should be optimized. E = evaporation from the soil surface. particularly in dry areas. Technologies affecting soil physical characteristics in order to increase water availability comprise mainly tillage and anti-erosion measures. frequency. Of these.E (2) To allow for the maximum amount of water to be available for transpiration (T). i.N.

another that the power available for tillage is inadequate to overcome the natural strength of the dry soil. Research-derived recommendations to cultivate after harvest or before the next rains to assist infiltration are often inapplicable: one problem is the indigenous practice of in situ grazing of residues. and soils with low water-holding capacity (Lal. However. but reduced cowpea grain yields by 8% (Klaij et ai. 1982). soil fertility. Controlled traffic and deep tillage resulted in higher maize yields and dry-matter production. improves weed control and water conservation. Crop yields from no-tillage agriculture are usually as high as or higher than yields produced by conventional tillage (Campbell et ai.. 1976). The no-tillage system is a powerful point of entry to solve the problems of soil erosion. and low water-holding capacities. In a millet-cowpea rotation. is becoming more widely used. thus increasing both fertilizer. 1994). 21 % for millet straw. or the same yields.. A particularly vicious circle can arise where the crusted surface of 'hardsetting' soil resists infiltration and promotes the runoff of much of the heavy early-season rainfall. The underlying logic in all cases should be soil management to optimize the provision of water to crops most able to utilize it productively. and 27% for cowpea fodder. combined with other inputs such as fertilizer and improved cultivars. In another experiment. which requires that stubble residues remain on or near the soil surface. Except on sandy soils.. However. tillage resulted in a 76-167% millet yield increase (Klaij & Hoogmoed. Netherlands Journal ofAgricultural Science 48 (2000) 219 . However. One solution is to give priority to the basic needs of the tillage operation (rather than those of a particular crop) and to increase the flexibility of the cropping system by introducing new varieties and species of shorter growth cycle (Jones. In West Africa. conservation tillage. showed synergistic effects. ridging and P fertilizer input increased biomass production by 10% for millet grain.INCREASE OF SOIL WATER USE EFFICIENCY IN DRYLAND AGRICULTURE mit the entry of an implement. it may be advantageous to rethink the cropping pattern and its relation to the tillage requirements for water infiltration and weed control. Maintenance of the soil structure is the basic requirement for any package aimed at recuperating and maintaining the productivity of soil. Senegal. 1993). Conventional or clean tillage has a long traditional and historical basis in rainfed cropping areas of the world. ridging is traditionally practised in Nigeria. Tillage research in semi-arid Southern Africa has been related to compaction and water conservation. which varied per year and cropping system. and improved rooting (Bennie et at. notill systems create other challenges that need to be coped with. Tillage. For the driest environments. with no tillage compared with conventional tillage. Currently.and water-use efficiency. improved WUE. Nicou & Charreau (1985) reported an average yield increase of 22% with tillage from 38 experiments. Berry & Mallett (1988) obtained better. soils are characterized by low surface porosity. poor structure. Mali. and enhances root proliferation. under higher rainfall and on more clayey soils. Tillage incorporates organic matter. Increasing the surface area of soil exposed to radiation and wind by deep plowing increases the loss of water through evaporation. so that after harvest many soils are unworkable until the next season. 1987). susceptibility to crust formation. indicating the need for site-specific recommendations. such as weed and pest infestations. most staple cereals continue extracting soil water beyond the end of the rainy season. 1984).

and hilling or mounding in the Seno plain in Mali. but its severity is not quantified. 1987). 1997). 1991). Where infiltration rates are low. the lack of structure renders them very susceptible to wind erosion. stimulates seedling growth and establishment. Many farmers have to delay their planting until the first rains softened the soil allowing land preparation (Pala. tillage operations under continuous cropping aim mainly at seedbed preparation and depend on the implements available to cultivate the dry and hard soil. with retention of stubble and straw. 1991). and equipment. VAN DUIVENBOODEN.. and/or crop residue retention treatments have been credited with reducing evaporation. plowing with a disc or moldboard to a depth of 20-30 cm each year. these results have proved hard to reproduce in northern Syria (Jones. C. If these same soils are cultivated when they are dry. deep chisel. 1991). particularly toward the drier margins of the cropped area in WANA (Cooper et al. the rapid mechanization of the commercial sector from the 1930s onward has meant that almost no research on tillage using animal draught has been carried out (Morse.e. Over six years of continuous barley and vetch-barley rotations. STUDER. conventional tillage is a regular practice. Deep tillage with moldboard in the spring of a fallow year is recommended for control of grass weeds in cereal crops. In the long term. When followed by a shallow secondary tillage at the end of the rains. and preparing the seedbed with either a harrow or tine implement (Cooper et aI. cultivation rapidly leads to surface degradation. Thus. In Southern Africa.and minimum-tillage treatments left more 220 Netherlands Journal ofAgricultural Science 48 (2000) . 1987).. the practice leads to greater storage of soil water and increased wheat yield through soil mulch serving as an isolation layer at 8-10 cm of the soil surface (Durutan et al.g. animal traction being particularly used to cultivate steep slopes.g.. However. (2000) reported that the general trends in soil water change were the same for all tillage practices (deep moldboard. fodder availability. Ridging reduces bulk density. C. reduced infiltration.l. in continuous cropping systems. tied ridging leads to higher infiltration by reducing runoff. in Southern Africa. but that zero. reduced-tillage. However. on the dry-season soil water economy was negligible. the use of animal traction seems a practical means to increase farmers' efficiency to produce food in many production systems in SSA. this secondary tillage can not be applied because the soil is too dry. shallow cultivator and zero-tillage). Within the WANA region. and failure of crops to emerge through the solid crusts which form. tillage can be expected to cause breakdown of the surface structure and increased crusting. BEUKES and Niger. as well as improving infiltration and reducing erosion in the USA (e. and may help reduce wind erosion (Klaij & Hoogmoed. Still. any effect of zero tillage. BIELDERS AND D. Although systems utilizing zero-tillage.. Large-scale adoption of primary and secondary tillage methods may only be realized through the acceptance of mechanization. 1993). Pala et al. PALA.L. This has an additional advantage of increasing surface roughness which enhances infiltration of rainfall late in the fallow season.N. concentrates fertility and organic matter. farmers' application of animal traction is often limited by the availability of the traction source. M. i. 1996). Papendick et al. In soils where the surface structure is inherently weak. e. The small improvements in crop performance occasionally observed may reflect a marginal reduction in evaporation in young plant stands drilled directly into the standing stubble..

or Panicum maximum.g. In addition. where olive plantations have substantially expanded recently (Anonymous.. nigritana) found in Burkina Faso. Tunisia. and soil surface are partly a function of wind speed and. zero. Erosion control measures In SSA. Stroosnijder & Hoogmoed. in Burkina Faso. Furthermore. 1994. Examples are strips ofVetiver grass (Vetiveria zizanioides and V. Cropping systems also playa role in reducing soil erosion. 1999). reduce soil erosion..INCREASE OF SOIL WATER USE EFFICIENCY IN DRYLAND AGRICULTURE water at harvest for the following crop compared with deep-tillage practices. 1999) and Syria (Somi & Abdul Aal. in dry conditions. For example.. Kenya. 1993). for instance in Egypt (Anonymous. through selling of woven products. common water erosion control measures comprise stone bunds. windbreaks ofneem trees increased millet yields by approximately 20% (Long & Persaud.. In addition.. micro-catchments (locally called e. Ouattara et al. 1988). Nigeria. the strips between fields have positive effects on soil and water conservation. appreciable savings of water may be achieved by reducing the wind flow through a crop. and may contribute to the farmers' income (e. 1995) and Senegal (Perez et al. 1998). in the hilly areas of northern Syria. traditional medicine. Similar systems are currently being tested in WANA. In Niger. are often proposed for such measures.. Small-scale amendments. Tanzania. while in Nigeria. and Zimbabwe (Vietmeyer & Ruskin. Nevertheless. Larger-scale alternatives include contour strips (Carter et al.g. Terracing may possibly be more appropriate in the wetter environments where soil and water conservation efforts focus more on prevention of massive soil erosion. If small farmers are to Netherlands Journal ofAgricultural Science 48 (2000) 221 . respectively (Zougmore et al. Eucalyptus trees increased yields by 50% (Onyewotu et al. windbreaks are rarely part of indigenous systems. 1997. 1968. These are on or slightly off the contour. 1984. Evaporative losses from crops. or Andropogon spp. fodder for animals. 1999a). 1998). often with transverse 'ties' at intervals across the furrows that restrict flow and create a pattern of infiltration basins (Dagg & Macartney. various systems of ridging. and rows of (leguminous) trees or perennial grasses (Roose. Ways to manage the soil surface to collect and/or harvest water or to counter the effects of high-intensity rainfall on crust-prone surfaces and so prevent runoff include crust-breaking techniques (mainly employed soon after sowing to assist crop emergence) and. Mali. Hedgerows of shrubs or small trees are also being planted as observed in Kenya (Kiepe. Van Dijk. resulting in a reduction in soil erosion of 80 and 45-55%. 1989. weeds.). 1988) and various bunding and terracing systems as part of an integrated soil and land management approach.. Haylett (1960) found soil loss to be 44 times higher under continuous maize cropping compared with natural vegetation.and minimum-tillage is more energy-efficient with no reductions in yield observed. Zai and Teras). and by 5-10% compared to cowpea alone. more widely. a mixed crop of sorghum and cowpea reduced runoff by 20-30% compared to sorghum alone. 1988). In South Africa. Morocco (Boutfirass et al. Manu et al. etc. 1999).g. windbreaks may have another beneficial effect through control of wind erosion. 1999b). using hand labor or simple mechanization. as e. 1998). Van Der Ploeg & Reddy. stone lines.

attention has been paid to the design of more productive and stable systems through improved cropping system management. they must be seen to have intrinsic economic value additional to any conservation role. Intercropping Greater efficiency of resource utilization is expected from intercropping and mixedcropping in a wide range of environments (Willey. Lamers et ai.. and phenology to suit local environmental conditions. where intercropped cowpea had the same effect as weeds. a local durum cultivar. and if water rather than radiation is limiting. 1989). and heat. Short-duration varieties for SSA that mitigate the effects of drought periods (often occurring at the beginning and end of the growing season) are urgently needed and being developed. drought. intercrops grown under a cereal canopy (supposed to utilize low-intensity radiation that would otherwise be 'wasted') may in fact compete heavily with the cereal for the limited water available.J. and are of good quality and high-yielding. of summer-rainfall crops over much of the semi-arid tropics (Gregory. these generalizations do not necessarily hold true in the more extreme environments. even at very low plant density cow- 222 Netherlands Journal ofAgricultural Science 48 (2000) . Crop varieties The identification of appropriate crops and cultivars with optimum physiology. such as the use of appropriate crop varieties.L. Anonymous. However. resistant to diseases and insects. For instance. Cropping system management During the last decades. provided 3 to 86% grain-yield increase compared to Hourani. an improved durum wheat variety. evaporative losses from the usually dry soil surface may be relatively unimportant. is one of the important research areas within cropping systems management for improved WUE. M. C. 1993. 1999a). In the WANA region. BIELDERS AND D. relay-cropping. This comprises various aspects. morphology. STUDER. apparently. Such cultivars (preferably also with higher harvest indices) are considered a key component of management strategies in the drought-prone areas. 1991).e. PALA. C. in dry years.N. and cultural techniques. improved cropping patterns. have vigorous early growth. Francis. 1996a). The suggested technology packages vary with agro-ecological conditions and farmers' objectives. VAN DUIVENBOODEN. under different water and nitrogen regimes in three distinct seasons (Pala et al. Early and complete canopy establishment to shade the soil and reduce evaporative loss from the soil surface can significantly improve the WUE of winter-rainfall crops in this region and also. especially the pattern of water availability. and are more demanding in terms of soil and management conditions. These results also show that improved cultivars may not render increased yields unless cultural practices are applied in an appropriate and timely manner.. the varieties should be tolerant to cold. If rainfall is infrequent. as is the case for fodder shrubs and trees (Acacia and Atriplex spp) in WANA (Jones & Harris. many of the currently available cultivars are susceptible to insect pests and bird damage (i. Cham 1. 1994. 1979. However. BEUKES adopt them. This has been demonstrated in Botswana. picking of grains because other feed can not be found yet).

or groundnut) that exhibit high complementarity between component crops and reduce the risk of crop failure (Swinton & Dueson. ensuring use of any stored soil water. An additional benefit was the reduced Striga infestation in millet/groundnut systems (N'tare et al. They also have synergistic effects with improved soil management practices. Sivakumar. relay cropping of maize and sunflower proved profitable (Nyakatawa & Nyati. be expected to increase crop competitiveness and WUE (Cooper & Gregory.. Practices that particularly contribute to this are: early sowing. In WANA. Cultural techniques Timely cultural techniques. 1989). 1988. 1989).. adjusting cowpea sowing time to the millet's growth cycle and the probable length of the rainy season is a technique that might increase cowpea yields (N'tare et al. Hence.. in most circumstances. and consequently. contrast strongly with results from West Africa. any husbandry technique that facilitates rapid canopy development and enables the crop to cover the soil surface. 1987). Since transpiration efficiency is a funcNetherlands Journal ofAgricultural Science 48 (2000) 223 . 1987). It is. to shade out weeds. improved cultivars. such as sowing with the first substantial rains. 1988) and these traditional production systems have a total yield advantage and are more stable than sole cropping (Fussell & Serafini. maize. 1987).. difficult to predict whether or not the coming rainy season is likely to be favourable.g. Relay cropping Relay cropping. The need for such a strategy is greatest on sandy soils with low water-holding capacities and subject to high rates of evaporative loss. and higher crop density (Fussell et al. however. good yields.INCREASE OF SOIL WATER USE EFFICIENCY IN DRYLAND AGRICULTURE pea was able to devastate the adjacent rows of sorghum (Rees. In the intercrop production system. is a well-known strategy. favourable rainfall years do occur and these must be fully exploited. and adequate plant population and close spacing (Gregory. after the principal cereal crop. early weeding and thinning are important for increased use of soil water. and also to reduce wind speed through the crop may. the practice of growing a short-duration. but over a run of years. Subsistence farmers practice forms of intercropping (e. however. 1987. Sowing date Within the concept of improved WUE. intercropping greatly increased yield variation and the risk of total crop failure (Jones. Such results. fast-growing secondary crop.. recent efforts have been made to predict the essential characteristics of the approaching rainy season and tailor crop management decisions to them (e. 1993). 1987). adequate fertilization. 1998). Replacement of cowpea by Stylosanthes hamata resulted in a higher WUE (Garba & Renard. Although the economic feasibility of relaycropping systems. 1991). 1986a). selection of varieties with rapid early growth (under cool conditions). millet with cowpea. in semi-arid Zimbabwe. sorghum. water transpired by crops should be increased relative to evaporation from the soil surface. small grain-yield advantages from intercropping could be recorded. 1991). In wet years. Shetty et al. although under different bio-physical conditions. is still to be determined in the Sahel.g. In the southern Sahel. usually a legume.

2 though the lower plant density appears to be optimum for a wide range of environments (Saxena. while cereal grain yield is the product of heads per unit area. 1991). directing biomass production into periods of lowest atmospheric demand confers an advantage (Acevedo et aI. 1998). Gupta. the optimum plant density depends upon environmental conditions and the genotype. but such compensation may not be complete. This so-called "seasonal shifting" can improve the water-use efficiency of crops to a great extent. Acevedo et at. Yield increases of 30-70% have been reported for winter-sown chickpea compared to spring-sown chickpea (Keatinge & Cooper.L.I mm. it pays to sow early (late fall. if planting was delayed from late October to late January. Stapper & Harris (1989) simulated on the basis of field experiments that for northern Syria.1 daTI in areas with 280 and 330 mm long-term average rainfall. there is compensation which tends to minimize yield loss when one component is reduced. plant distribution.1 at early planting to about 6 kg ha. respectively. early sowing oflentil in mid November increased seed yield by 20-25% compared with late sowing in early January (Silim et aI. and allow for better use of limited (rain or irrigation)water and/or large water savings in crop production (Seckler..2%. In the same region. rainy winter/early spring period (Cooper & Gregory. VAN DUIVENBOODEN. C. resulting in increased WUE by 78% (Brown et at. i. (1989) concluded from their millet/cow224 Netherlands Journal ofAgricultural Science 48 (2000) . C. Timely sowing on the basis of a scientific method rather than a traditional method increased millet yields in Nigeria by 20-40% (Onyewotu et al. 1983).. 1990).. 1984). each one-week delay in sowing after November 1st will reduce wheat yields by 4. BIELDERS AND DJ. Likewise. despite temperature limitations to growth. 1991.I at late planting. Crop density improvement Economic crop yields arise from plant densities that minimize inter. Pala & Mazid. BEUKES tion of the atmospheric saturation deficit. 1981).. while the earliness depends on the tillage/crop rotation system employed (Pala. but may reduce the other two components (Joseph et at. and kernel weight. Pala & Mazid. STUDER. In WANA.e. 1981. 1991. kernels per head. and genotype in a given region have substantial effects on these components. 1984. Mean rainfall-use efficiency of barley decreased from 12 kg ha.. relative dryness of the air. In the case of legumes. Among yield components.N. PALA. 1987).. which also resulted in a higher yield. Increasing the seeding density can increase the heads per unit area. The yields of these genotypes at a density of 50 plants m-2 are increased significantly compared to 33 plants m. The seeding density. 1992a). Keatinge & Cooper. early winter) so that as much as possible of the crop's growth cycle is completed within the cool.1 mm. Tall and erect chickpea varieties respond better to increased plant population than the spreading types (Singh. The effect of increased seeding density was more apparent at the earliest sowing date. which widely depends on environmental conditions. Similar considerations lie behind the attempts to persuade farmers to move from spring to winter sowing of chickpea. Overall yield loss was about 50% in both areas. N'tare et at. A sowing density of 300-450 germinable lentil seed per m 2 generally resulted in the highest yield under Syrian conditions (Silim et at. 1985).and intra-row competition. 1992b).. decreasing when the sowing date was delayed. 1989) and more than 100% (Keatinge & Cooper. 1996). 1995). (1991) observed a yield-decrease of 9 and 22 kg ha. M.

1982). Bationo et al. 1991). Ryan. 1991) has demonstrated the benefits of appropriate fertilization on WUE and therefore on production and yield stability of millet in SSA and of winter-sown crops. Penning De Vries & Djiteye. Pala et al. the use of fertilizer. The greatest WUE of sorghum grain production was achieved by the sparser populations. However. Payne et al. 1992). 1997). Wallace et al.INCREASE OF SOIL WATER USE EFFICIENCY IN DRYLAND AGRICULTURE pea intercrop experiments that millet yields were not greatly reduced by increasing cowpea densities when soil water and fertility were adequate. Van Averbeke & Marais (1992) found that the maize plant population for optimum yield decreased from 60 000 plants ha. the main objective of weed control is to increase the water supply available to the crop. Syria (e. (1994) demonstrated on-farm the yield-increasing effect of increased millet population under adequate nutrition. however.. which left much of the soil surface exposed to solar radiation. such that flowering was often delayed or failed completely (Rees. intense competition in the denser populations kept individual plants very small.g. and with decreasing size the transfer of dry matter into the grain became rapidly less efficient. low plant densities can give rise to below-optimal crop WUE because the ratio of soil evaporation to crop transpiration may be increased. Mali (e. Thus. 1987. it has been found in the marginal regions of Burkina Faso and Ethiopia that the average grain yield from the wealthier farmers can be twice that of the poorer farmers cultivating adjacent fields in the same communities (Webb & Reardon. All farmers in semi-arid environments face limits to crop and animal productivity. Netherlands Journal ofAgricultural Science 48 (2000) 225 . Onken et al. and light. Frequent tillage between the trees controls weeds and also conserves soil water through a 'dry-mulch' effect...1 when 240 mm water is available. therefore. nutrients. (1988).1 with 650 mm water supply to 10000 plants ha. Turkey (Kalayci et al. hired labour. in WANA. especially wheat and barley. Yet. In dry areas. This finding is also applied by commercial farmers in the dry parts of South Africa growing their maize in rows 2-3 m apart. 1996b. they used up the available soil water sooner between the infrequent rainstorms. Weed control Weeds compete with crops for water. while the densest populations of sorghum in Botswana produced the most dry matter (per unit area and per mm of rain). and Tunisia (Mechergui et al.. 1988. such that the canopy cover remains mostly below 25%.. 1988). 1991. judicious use of farmyard manure and inorganic fertilizer is particularly important. 1992). Jones. Manu et al. Even where flowering occurred. Soil fertility management Given the inherent low fertility of many dry-area soils. Cooper et al. Higher plant densities. Similarly..g. 1987). and other inputs can still make a difference for farmers wealthy enough to secure such inputs. For example. increase WUE and yield (Gandah. estimated that about 36% of the seasonal rainfall of 562 mm could be lost as direct evaporation from the surface. 1986b. working on sparse millet crops in Niger. (1990) observed that low plant density in farmers' fields is the primary reason for low crop response to applied fertilizer... Klaij & Vachaud. olive growers in the dry areas of WANA plant trees at very wide spacing. Extensive work in Niger (e.g. In addition. they became stressed earlier than did sparser crops.

for instance. grazing. 1991). it was observed that millet-cowpea rotation had an effect equivalent to the addition of approximately 30 g N ha. some water may be left in the soil profile for the subsequent cereal crop.. crop rotation. thus increasing the chance of developing economic and sustainable farming systems which are also efficient in water use (Amor.. C. BIELDERS AND D. Rotation trials in WANA demonstrated that wheat (Cham 1) yields were lowest (1000 kg ha.. 226 Netherlands Journal ofAgricultural Science 48 (2000) . C. Rather than relying on only one method of weed control. pests. and fallow 126% (Harris. proper and timely cultivation. aggregate stability. 1986. but the causes of the poor productivity are not yet completely clear. and pathogens. chickpea 46%. Durutan et ai. early crop development. Also other management practices such as tillage. Compared with the cereal-fallow system. it is therefore important to adopt an integrated approach to the control of weeds. and biological control. cereal-legume rotations produce yields every year. Continuous cereal systems are increasing. Crop rotations There is increasing concern about the deterioration of integrated crop/livestock systems because of the high pressure put on these systems by the ever-rising demand for food and feed. several possible alternatives should be used in a systematic manner. in southern Niger. melon 119%. hand weeding. 1997). BEUKES But factors such as early sowing (affecting transpiration efficiency) and mulching (reducing soil evaporation) affect both weed infestation as well as crop water availability and use (Amor. For instance. 1994). PALA. Because of their usually shorter growing period. Yield increases following various crops in a rotation compared with that of continuous wheat were for medic 39%. etc.1 yr-' based on on-farm trials. Bationo. crop competition. The components of integrated weed control may include. increasing the latter's productivity (Karaca et ai. 1999. Including legumes in the rotation has proved to be beneficial for sustainable crop production in both regions.L. seed density. besides accumulation of allelophatic compounds (Pala et ai. vetch 84%. M. and crop rotations are interrelated with both weed control and water-use efficiency (Cornish & Lymberg. Legumes grown in a crop sequence with cereals have a positive effect on the system's overall WUE. The decline in yield under continuous cereal cropping constitutes a major problem. organic matter content.N. 1995). VAN DUIVENBOODEN. 1991. millet-cowpea or milletgroundnut rotations doubled millet production over a four-year period (A.). parallel to the increasing demand for human and animal consumption.. thus increasing the system's overall WUE and its output in terms of quantity as well as nutritional quality (Pala et ai. STUDER. personal communication) compared with continuous millet. Harris. fertilizer application. Similarly. and the buildup of noxious weeds. herbicide use. preventing weed infestation by using clean seed (to prevent weed infestation). 2000). Part can be explained by negative effects on physical and chemical soil properties (soil mining. 1991). lentil 82%. To minimize the competition between weeds and crops for water. 1991).l.1) under continuous cropping.

the table argues that if a high risk of climatic or edaphic drought exists. In addition to increases in yield and economic returns. technologies should be implemented to deal with these problems first. impact of this type of research is also obtained (but difficult to quantify) as improved knowledge of farmers on soil and water conservation principles and technologies through use of visual teaching aids (Chuma & Murwira 1999). Finally. and institutional capacity-building of the National Agricultural Research and Extension Services. Edaphic drought risk will therefore be high if PAW is low. 34% to the use of improved varieties. sowing. For instance. 1999). if the runoff potential is high. Examples of impact of research on optimizing soil water use techniques In contrast to research on irrigated agriculture. except in Syria and Turkey. 1987). The choice depends on the degree to which the water requirements of the crops are met by rainfall (first column in Table 2). or both.8 to 2. phosphorus application. it is evident that developing recommendations for optimizing soil water use is not an easy task. with 37% of the impact coming from rainfed areas (Mazid et al. It therefore reflects both the water retention properties of the soil and the ability of the roots of a given crop to explore a given soil volume and extract water from it. etc. and improved varieties (Avci et al. to our knowledge no formal impact assessments of rainfed systems technologies have been carried out in OSWU member countries. 1999). Beukes et aI. 24% to fertilizer. This increase is predominantly caused by timely soil management with proper implements (timely tillage. non-quantified reports of impacts on the environment exist.). In Syria. The other impacts listed in Table 3 may be obtained in quite short periods of one to a few years. to ensure that technologies aimed at optimizing soil water use will be profitable. Nevertheless..4 t ha. and 19% to land and crop management (Table 3). )'d and 4th columns).. In essence. 1998). PAW is calculated on the basis of the maximum amount of water that can be stored within the rooting zone of the soil profile and that is potentially extractable by crops. about 23% of the increase in durum wheat production is due to effects of irrigation. Netherlands Journal ofAgricultural Science 48 (2000) 227 . improved varieties and efficient crop husbandry practices resulted in a threefold wheat yield in the last 50 years. Edaphic drought risk can be based on the actual amount of rainfall infiltrating into the soil and on the relative amount of plant available water (PAW). weeding. we developed a simple decision tree for the choice of technological options that can be used to optimize the use of rainfall (and thus soil water). from 0.. mulching helps in reducing wind erosion and reduces soil surface sealing (e. and reduced labour (Table 3). and on the relative risk of occurrence of climatic and edaphic drought (2 nd .g.1 (Avci et al.INCREASE OF SOIL WATER USE EFFICIENCY IN DRYLAND AGRICULTURE Example of recommendations From the part above.. In Turkey.

cropping system. ":::. ::< ". :: Low go ~ . Improve soil surface characteristics such as roughness. crop management) ::< ~ ~ .:::: High ::< !2. Increase soil water holding capacity (theoretically feasible but not practical in most cases) "' ~ Insufficient High High Low -< Z 5. 3. Rainfall crop water requirement satisfaction Sufficient Climatic drought risk Low Edaphic drought risk Plant available water (PAW) High Required priority actions and technical options Runoff potential Low High Low ~ I. choice of crops) 2... water harvesting from areas with high runoff potential in the landscape).g. demi-lunes) OQ ::1. crusts (e... Use supplemental irrigation from tanks and reservoirs (e.g. and 6. subsoiling) So t:l c::: trI 3. residue management) 6.N N 00 Table 2. High ~ ~ High • Correct low PAW and high runoff potential simultaneously: apply no 2. deep plowing. Correct soil chemical deficiencies preventing full root development (e. barriers. tillage and residue management. tillage.. Decision tree for priority actions and technical options for optimizing rainfall water use according to environmental conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ensure optimal use of stored water through adequate soil and crop management practices (e. 5. trI High • Apply 4 or 5 in addition to 7 or 8 t:l t:l trI c::: [/1 . liming. Low 7.0::.g. residue management.Z ~ '"C > r ?> 0 [/1 >-3 c::: t:l trI J'l (J t-< ttl tIl r t:l trI ~ [/1 ~ Low • Apply 4 or 5 in addition to 7 High • Apply 4 or 5 in addition to 8 Low • Apply 7 ~ ttl High Low • Apply 7 or 8 • Apply 4 or 5 in addition to 7 . Zai..g."' 00 W ~ ~ ~ 4... Reduce the effect oflow permeability layers in the soil (e. Take advantage of runoff to increase locally the amount of water infiltrating into the soil during rainy periods.g. Correct soil physical factors limiting root development (e.. fertilization. tillage. micro-nutrients. subsoiling) Low :z: < > Z ttl 0 0 t:l trI . fertilization.. water collection. thereby increasing soil water storage in the root zone for use during dry spells (e.g. High 8. 4..g.

wheat Syria +19% yield Mazid et al. wheat South Africa Syria +50% yield +27% yield +20-33% yield « 400 mm) +46% yield (550 mm) +5% yield (900-1100 mm) +16% yield +34% yield Beukes et al. large amounts of rainwater are still lost and/or inefficiently utilized in farmers' fields. Biophysically. 1998 Fertilizer use D. stability. OSWU-Technique Crop Country Impact Reference Burkina Faso Burkina Faso +35-65% yield +35-220% yield Ouattara et al. The possible mechanisms oflosses and inefficiency are many.. to increase the capture and retention of incoming (rain)water. and crop management at the field.if actual production per unit area is to reach the agricultural production potential in the dry areas of WANA and SSA.1999 Avci. at different locations.. 1999 Materechera.. 1999 Mini-mound tillage Cropping techniques Intercrop Relay Millet Millet not specified Maize Zimbabwe Malawi +22% economic -40% labour Mzezewa & Gotosa. 1999 Beukes et al. water.INCREASE OF SOIL WATER USE EFFICIENCY IN DRYLAND AGRICULTURE Table 3. 1999 Ouattara et al.. to maximize Netherlands Journal ofAgricultural Science 48 (2000) 229 . 1999 Beukes et al. 1998 Other techniques N 0.till drill No tillage Minimum tillage Cereals Maize Maize Morocco South Africa South Africa Boutfirass et al. S = Sunflower. it is different subsets of those mechanisms that need to be understood and remedied within the local human and socio-economic context . wheat Syria +24% yield Mazid et al.. and second. Further... labour or economic return on farmers' fields in dry areas ofWANA and SSA.1999 Avci. wheat = Durum wheat.1999 Guier et al.. 1998 Land management Improved cultivar + management package Improved cultivar Timely tillage + proper implementation Nitrogen application Phosphate application Weed control D. 1999 Residue mulch Improved cultivar Maize D. 1998 Wheat Wheat Turkey Turkey +300% yield +35% yield Avci. 1991 Avci. D.1999 Wheat Wheat Wheat Wheat Turkey Turkey Turkey Turkey +55% yield +15% yield +40% yield +15% yield Avci. 1999 Mazid et al.. plot.. and sustainability particularly under rainfed conditions. 1998 Nyakatawa & Nyati. Selected examples of impact of various optimizing soil water use techniques on produce. and farm level: first. varied. solutions to many of the problems will require the improvement of soil. and not always well quantified.1999 Soil erosion/water catchment Stone rows Zai Tied ridges I) in comparison with a monoculture system Conclusions and future research needs Irrespective of the research results mentioned in this paper relating to improving water use efficiency and hence production levels. 1999 Maize/S Maize/S Zimbabwe Zimbabwe +3% economical 1 +32% economical 1 Nyakatawa & Nyati.

including these biophysical strategies in a bio-economic model is considered a valuable approach to match the identified strategies with the socio-economic conditions of resource-poor farmers in the semiarid regions of WANA and SSA. BlELDERS AND D. There is also an integrated approach being tested to simultaneously optimize soil water and nutrient use by crops in dry areas for greater efficiency and sustainability as for too long have these two aspects been researched independently. VAN DUIVENBOODEN. if potential yield levels obtained in on-station research are to be achieved in farmers' fields.L. downstream soil and water users. In the future. PALA. The established collaboration and exchange of information between agricultural scientists. insects.l. the OSWU consortium proposes also to execute more research in the antroposophic/social research domain. extension workers. and control of diseases. Although it has been reported that soil water conservation techniques are not economically attractive. Whenever possible. and weeds needs to best suit the local environmental conditions. and allow identification of eventual positive or negative off-site effects. Given the low and erratic precipitation for crop production in the dry areas. Following her conclusion and those of Ouattara et al. An integrated catchment management approach where soil water and nutrient balances are determined per land-use pattern is therefore considered to be investigated within the consortium research agenda but awaits further funding for execution. building on past experience. sowing date. Crop simulation modeling linked to GIS to capture spatial variability can facilitate the development of recommendations for possible techniques or strategies for farmers in a specific biophysical environment. and improved production stability. BEUKES the proportion of that water productively transpired by the crop. and the calculation procedures should be clearly explained. plant density. Adaptive research and a farmer-participatory approach. observations by. This broader natural resource management perspective will also supply information to off-site. with regard to inputs and outputs and the time and spatial scales at which it is being estimated. C. and farmers within the OSWU consortium will allow a more rapid and sustainable solution to the food production problems and inefficient use of limited water resources. but rather at the level of a watershed. (1999). and close linkages between scientists. for instance. the term WUE should be replaced with more specific definitions. further research should focus on improving water-use efficiency associated with increased production per unit area. The focus for further research on optimizing soil water use in the dry areas will 230 Netherlands Journal ofAgricultural Science 48 (2000) . income diversification in normal years) in a risky climatic environment determine investments in these techniques. STUDER. The decision support tool indicated also the need for considering downstream effects. C. in order to facilitate comparison between different studies. It is recommended that careful attention should be paid to the definition of WUE.N. fertilizer management. Van Dijk (1997) demonstrate that other factors (risk avoiding in dry years. Futher. The choice of crops for the production systems. are key issues for identification of acceptable techniques that match local needs and available resources. M. cultivar. and to identify the best-bet options that the farmers can test. investigations on optimizing the use of water for a cropping system should focus not only at the level of a single field.

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