Call edition 2012

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Vegetation and soil fertily in fallow lands on the Makonde Plateau, South-East Tanzania

Ingrid BATEN student laureate

°1976 Belgium
Bio-engineer in land and forest management, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, 1999.

Vegetatie en bodemvruchtbaarheid onder braaklandbouw op het Makonde Plateau, Zuidoost Tanzania

In Sub-Saharan Africa, many soils are characterised by a low fertility and the preponderant farming systems include a fallow period aimed at restoring the capacity of the soil to bear a crop. However, there are numerous reports of declining fertility caused by the reduction of the fallow periods. To check this issue, a study of land use was made on the Makonde Plateau, in southeastern Tanzania, by means of three methods : analysis of aerial photographs, grid survey and questionnaire inquiry; on the other hand, the effect of fallow was studied by means of the analysis of the plant cover dynamics and of soil analyses. On the Makonde Plateau, the author observed following foreseeable effects of fallow : increases in the number of plant species and in the soil levels of exchangeable bases and organic matter. However, she found no evidence supporting the hypothesis of declining soil fertility and suggests that this might be due to the negligible effects of water or wind erosion and the low nutrient export resulting from the low productivity of the crops. Thus, Ingrid Baten's work raises the question : will the favourable effect of fallow be sufficient to ensure a sustainable development in the future ? For the author, it is clear that there are little reserves available for any expansion of the cultivated area and that technologies based on a profound knowledge of the local ecosystem and farming practices must be developed to speed up the process of nutrient replenishment.