Authored by Judith A. Odhiambo1, Urszula Norton1,2*, Dennis Ashilenje3, Emmanuel C. Omondi4, Jay B. Norton4
Weed competition is a significant problem in maize (Zea mays, L.) production in Sub-Saharan Africa. Better understanding of weed management and costs in maize inter-cropped with beans (Phaseolus vulgaris, L.) during transition to conservation agricultural systems is needed. Changes in weed population and maize growth were assessed for a period of three years at Bungoma where crops are grown twice per year and at Trans-Nzoia where crops are grown once per year. Treatments included three tillage practices: minimum (MT), no-till (NT) and conventional (CT) applied to three cropping systems: continuous maize/bean inter-cropping (TYPICAL), maize/bean inter-cropping with relayed mucuna after bean harvest (RELAY) and maize, bean and mucuna planted in a strip inter-cropping arrangement (STRIP). Herbicides were used in NT, shallow hand hoeing and herbicides were used in MT and deep hoeing with no herbicides were used in CT. Weed and maize performance in the maize phase of each cropping system were assessed at both locations and costs of weed control were estimated at Manor House only. Weed density of grass and forb species declined significantly under MT and NT at Manor House and of grass species only at Mabanga. The greatest declines of more than 50% were observed as early as within one year of the transition to MT and NT in STRIP and TYPICAL cropping systems at Manor House. Transitioning to conservation based systems resulted in a decline of four out of five most dominant weed species. At the same time, no negative impact of MT or NT on maize growth was observed. Corresponding costs of weed management were reduced by $148.40 ha-1 in MT and $149.60 ha-1 in NT compared with CT. In conclusion, farmers can benefit from effective and less expensive weed management alternatives early in the process of transitioning to reduced tillage operations.