Livestock Research for Rural Development 26 (6) 2014 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

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Evaluation of the performance of herbaceous forage legumes under sown with maize under irrigation condition of Megech North Gondar, Ethiopia

Alemu Tarekegn and Tikunesh Zelalem

Gondar Agricultural Research Center P.O.Box 1337, Gondar, Ethiopia


The effect of intercropping some forage legumes with maize crop on biomass yield of legumes and the grain and Stover yield of maize was determined under irrigation condition of Megech by using a Randomized Completely Block Design (RCBD). The legumes used for under sowing were Vigna unguiculata, Lablab purpureus and Vicia atropurpurea and the maize- legume integration were sole Maize (SM), Maize + Vigna unguiculata (MU), Maize + Lablab purpureus (ML) and Maize + Vicia atropurpurea (MV).

The results indicated that intercropping forage legumes with maize crop did not affect the growth, grain and Stover yield of maize. The biomass yield of individual forage legumes showed that L. purpureus gave the highest forage dry matter yield and higher than the rest of under sown forage legumes. With respect to total biomass yield (Biomass yield of Forage and Maize Stover) ML yielded the highest biomass. The results suggest that maize grain yield and biomass yield of intercrops can be maximized for both human and livestock feeding by integrating L. purpureus with maize crop.

Key words: biomass yield, crop residue, intercropping, stover


The increase in human population and the resultant pressure on arable land have accelerated the transformation of pasturelands into crop lands, with either shortened fallows or abandonment of the traditional fallow. This limits pasture production plus crop and crop residue yield and quality (Jones and Wild 1975; Ruthenberg 1983). During the dry season in the sub-Saharan Africa particularly in Ethiopia, livestock depend mainly on natural pastures and crop residues which are often limiting in quantity and nutritional quality. The limiting feed supply to animals results in weight loss and ill-health. The integration of livestock with crops has therefore been suggested as significant in the improvement of livestock output.

Intercropping is a common practice in most small scale farming systems of Ethiopia. Maize (Zea mays L.) being the most important food crop intercropped with a minor/ companion crop for various reasons. Most of the intercropped species are legumes, although a variety of crops can be found including other cereals. Integration of food and forage crops is a useful practice in area where both crop and livestock farming are simultaneously practiced (Lulseged et al 1987).

Multiple cropping systems can actually give more efficient total resource exploitation and greater overall production than sole crops (Habtamu et al 1996).

Crop-livestock farming is commonly practiced in the sub-Saharan region particularly in Ethiopia but, more attention is usually paid to the staple crops, mainly the cereals whose less nutritive residues are left for livestock feeding as well as for firewood. A proper integration of cereals with legumes can improve the nutritive value of crop residues, feed intake and animal production.

Farmers practicing cereal-legume intercropping are often concerned with what they will harvest as food and not what the legumes can contribute to livestock nutrition but the integration of food crops and fodder legumes contributes significantly to feed production and to food production through soil fertility improvement. Nevertheless farmers in North Gondar area do not practice it. Hence this study was conducted to identify the best compatible herbaceous forage legumes for under sowing with maize and evaluate their forage dry matter yield and their effect on maize grain.

Materials and Methods

Experimental field

The study was conducted under irrigation condition of Megch; which is located between latitude 12° 22’ 45.2’’ N and longitude 037° 21’ 28.2’’E. The soil in the area is predominantly vertisol. The soil fertility is medium and it is situated at an altitude of 1804meters above sea level.

Experimental procedure and design

The field was divided in to four blocks and the four treatments randomly assigned to the plots in each block. The treatments included: sole maize (SM), maize and Vigna unguiculata Acc.Nº 11114 (MVu), maize and Lablab purpureus Acc.Nº 7278 (ML), and maize and Vicia atropurpurea Acc.Nº 1481 (MVa). Maize was planted with a spacing of 75cm and 30cm between rows and plants, respectively on a plot size of 3.75m * 3m. Spacing between blocks and plots was 1.5m and 1m, respectively. The forage legumes were entirely double row planted with maize at the knee height stage of maize growth or 40 days after planting of maize.

The seed rate was 25, 15 and 12 kg per hectare for maize, V. unguiculata and L.purpureus, and V.atropurpurea, respectively. Released maize variety (BH-540) was used for the experiment. Fertilizer at a rate of 30/119 kg per hectare P2O5/N was applied around the crop seed planted. The whole P2O5 was used at planting whereas Nitrogen fertilizer was used by dividing in to three at planting, at vegetative and at teaseling stage of maize. Planting was during the second half of February 2012. Irrigation water was applied using furrow irrigation method on ten days interval.

Data was collected on height of the maize and the forage and ground cover of the legumes. Harvesting of all plants was done 133 days after planting, when the maize cobs were fully matured. At harvest grain and Stover yields of maize and biomass yield of legumes were taken by picking samples from each plot for dry matter yield (DMY) determination. Grain yield was determined following shelling and adjusting the moisture level to 12.5 percent. All plots were harvested on the same date. The data collected were subjected to analysis of variance by using SAS (2003) and mean separation was done using LSD at 5% probability level.

Results and discussion

Growth rate, grain and Stover yield of Maize
Table 1. Mean Plant Height, Grain and Stover yield of Maize under irrigation condition Megech, Dembia in the year 2012
Treatment Height of Maize Stover (cm) Maize grain yield (t ha-1) Maize Stover yield (t ha-1)
Sole Maize 200 5.63 7.10
Maize + Vigna unguiculata Acc.Nº 11114 197 5.75 6.33
Maize + Lablab purpureus Acc.Nº 7278 192 5.85 6.34
Maize + Vicia atropurpurea Acc.Nº 1481 194 6.08 7.36
Mean 196 5.83 6.78
SE () 3.70 1.63 0.24
Sign. NS NS NS
SE= standard error; NS= not significant at least at p>0.05; t ha-1 = tonnes per hectare.

The introduction of forage legumes did not influenced the height of maize (Table 1). From Table 1, the mean grain yield of SM was the least but not lower than those of maize- legumes intercrops. Tessema and Demekash (2001) reported a similar pattern but higher yield of 10.49t ha-1 and 10.04t ha-1 for sole maize and maize- legume intercrops, respectively. Since the two experiments were conducted in different locations, years, seasons and the variety of maize used were different; it is possible that changes in the maize varieties we use, environmental conditions and time accounted for the variation in the yields.

Stover (stalks) biomass yield of maize

The grain and Stover yields were almost the same in all the treatments (Table 1). Other studies revealed that when grain yield of maize was high, the average Stover yield of maize was nearly twice as high as the average grain yield, but when grain yield was low, the average Stover yields become 3- 3.5 times higher than the grain yield (NAES 1992). Variations in the Stover yields could be attributed to differences in the level of soil fertility, climatic zones, seasons, and the variety of maize used and agronomic practices of the different study areas.

The results of this study suggested that the intercropped forage legumes did not suppress maize grain yield. Even though farmers’ primary target is often the grain and not the Stover, they could practice cereal- legume inter cropping to produce livestock feed without compromising grain yield.

Percent plot cover of the legumes

The percentage ground covers among the treatment groups were different (Table 2). Lablab purpureus had the highest ground cover. L. purpureus is a robust climbing broad leaf legume which accounts for its higher ground cover while V. atropurpurea had the least ground cover. In this study L. purpureus showed the greatest potential as a cover crop followed by V. unguiculata. This might be due to the growth pattern of the legumes used for the intercrop as well as the amount of leaves and twigs remaining on each plant at the time of harvest. Hence the best cover crop may not be the best crop for livestock feed production in mixed cropping.

Table 2. Mean Percentage Ground Cover, Biomass yield of Forage Legumes and Biomass yield of Forage and Stover under irrigation condition Megech, Dembia in the year 2012
Treatment Ground
Cover (%)
Biomass Yield of
Forage (t ha-1)
Biomass yield of
Forage + Stover
(t ha-1)
Sole Maize - - 7.10b
Maize + Vigna unguiculata Acc.Nº11114 62.9b 1.73b 7.81b
Maize + Lablab purpureus Acc.Nº 7278 78.2a 2.89a 9.31a
Maize + Vicia atropurpurea Acc.Nº1481 49.0c 1.23c 8.17b
Mean 63.4 1.95 8.10
SE () 1.20 0.09 0.20
Sign. *** *** *
abc Means followed by different superscript letters with in a treatment group are significantly different at p<0.05 and p<0.001; SE= standard error; *, ***= significant at p<0.05, p< 0.001, respectively; t ha-1= tonnes per hectare.
Mean biomass yield of under sown forage legumes

From Table 2, the biomass yield of V.unguiculata Acc.Nº 11114 and V.atropurpurea Acc.Nº1481 differed from L.purpureus Acc.Nº 7278. This could be attributed to the differences in the performance by the different legume species. The least yield of V.atropurpurea Acc.Nº1481 was almost the same as L.purpureus 1.29t ha-1year-1 reported by (Birfeeb et al 2011).

L. purpureus was outstanding in biomass production and can contribute in improving the crude protein content of the feed which the maize Stover lacks. It did not show any adverse effect on both grain and Stover yields of maize and so would be suitable for intercropping with maize for livestock feed production.

Mean total biomass yield of under sown forage legumes and Maize Stover

With respect to total biomass yield (Biomass yield of Forage and Maize Stover) ML yielded higher than SM, MVu and MVa (Table 1).

Conclusion and Recommendation


The authors would like to acknowledge Ethiopian Nile Irrigation and Drainage Project (ENIDP) for financing the research project. We also thank the staff of livestock technology supply directorate of Gondar Agricultural Research Center (GARC) especially research assistants for their assistance during the execution of the research.


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Received 7 March 2014; Accepted 21 April 2014; Published 1 June 2014

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