Saturday, 15 July 2006

Unravelling the Mysteries of the Quesungual Slash and Mulch Agroforestry.

Luis Alvarez Welchez1, Miguel Ayarza Sr.2, Edgar Amezquita3, Edmundo Barrios3, Marco Rondon3, Idupulapati Rao3, Mariela Rivera3, Jellin Pavon4, Oscar Ferreira5, Denis Valladares5, Naman Sanchez5, and Aracely Castro3. (1) MIS Consortium, Edificio DICTA-SAG Apartado postal 15159, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, (2) Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, CIAT, Edificio DICTA-SAG, Segundo Piso, Modulo 224, Apartado postal 15159, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, (3) CIAT, Cali, Colombia, (4) INTA, Instituto Nacional de Tecnologia Agropecuaria, Managua, Nicaragua, (5) ESNACIFOR, Edificio DICTA-SAG, Apartado 15159, Tegucigalpa, Honduras

The Quesungual Slash and Mulch Agroforestry System (QSMAS) is an alternative to slash and burn management. It is based on planting annual crops (maize, sorghum, beans) and pastures under an indigenous slash and mulch management system. It combines the regrowth of native forest vegetation with no burning and zero tillage/direct planting operations on a permanent soil cover. More than 6,000 farmers covering an estimated area of 7,000 ha, who have adopted the QSMAS system during the last ten years in Honduras, have increased crop yields by more than 100% (maize from 1200 to 2500 kg/ha, beans from 325 to 800 kg/ha) in comparison with the traditional slash and burn system. Farmers have indicated that less labour is required to establish and maintain the system and that the soil retained markedly more moisture, enabling crops to withstand extended droughts and minimising erosion and landslides. While the success of the QSMAS was never in dispute, the factors behind its success are less well understood. These aspects include the biophysical conditions required for QSMAS to work and the social and economic conditions that make it attractive and viable for rural communities. Scientists from the Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility (TSBF) Institute of The Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT) in Colombia, and partners of the Consortium for the Integrated Management of Soils for Central America (MIS in spanish) have embarked on research with the support of the Water and Food Challenge Program to unravel the mysteries QSMAS and to establish a plan for applying the system. The CPWF project plans to spread this simple yet effective system to highland areas throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Ultimately the project is expected to identify new areas that could be suitable for QSMAS and to provide the tools for adapting and promoting the entire system or its components in these areas. The research group has already established that QSMAS is a complex system with many biophysical and socioeconomic variables. They have identified and quantified a number of key success factors including minimal soil disturbance, the value of spot fertilisation. However, there are methodological challenges to determine water dynamics in these Entisols because of the high proportion of stones in the soil. Preliminary results of the field experiments indicate a strong interaction between soil fertility, water availability and crop productivity. Management principles are under validation with farmers in Nicaragua.

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