Department of Agroforestry, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, GHANA.
Soil fertility depletion remains a major biophysical constraint to increased food production in Ghana even when improved germplasm has been made available. With the growing concern of the potential of low input agriculture in mitigating soil fertility challenges, exploratory researches are imperative in selecting best quality organic materials that meet this expectation. This study was conducted to assess the suitability of Tithonia diversifolia green biomass as a nutrient source for smallholder agriculture in Ghana using both on-station and on-farm trials. The on-station research comprised an evaluation of the decomposition and nutrient release patterns of T. diversifolia in comparison with well-known leguminous species of agroforestry importance: Senna spectabilis, Gliricidia sepium, Leucaena leucocephala and Acacia auriculiformis. Concurrently, field trials were conducted to appraise the quality of T. diversifolia green biomass in relation to its biophysical effects on soil properties and the agronomic characteristics of crops. This was a comparative study with S. spectabilis, G. sepium and mineral fertilizer on a ferric acrisol. Field trials were also conducted to determine best practices for optimum biomass production of T. diversifolia using different pruning regimes and cutting heights as factors. The on-farm research was conducted at Dumasua in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana to appraise 200 farmers’ preliminary knowledge of T. diversifolia and evaluate the effect of T. diversifolia green biomass on soil fertility indicators and crop yields. The results of the decomposition study confirmed significantly high N, P, K concentrations in T. diversifolia comparable to levels recorded for the four leguminous species. In addition, T. diversifolia recorded the highest decomposition and nutrient release rates which differed significantly (p < 0.05) from rates of the four leguminous species. Although decomposition and nutrient release rates of species were related to quality of leaf material, P and Mg concentrations in particular were most influential in decomposition and nutrient release based on significant results. The on-station trials showed significant effect of the green manures (particularly T. diversifolia) on soil properties and the biomass and fruit yield of okro (Abelmoschus esculentus). These results were comparable and in some cases greater than fertilizer treatments. Total yield response in T. diversifolia treatment was 61% and 20% greater than the control and fertilizer treatments respectively. From the pruning experiment, it was evident that height of cutting, pruning frequency and their interaction significantly affected dry matter production of T. diversifolia. Dry matter production was highest (7.2 t ha-1yr-1) when T. diversifolia was pruned bi-monthly at 50 cm height. Results from the sociological survey confirmed farmers’ general knowledge on T. diversifolia at Dumasua was poor. Although majority of respondents had seen the plant growing, none could give a common name. Only the ornamental importance of T. diversifolia was identified. Meanwhile, the on-farm trials revealed a significant synergistic effect of combining T. diversifolia and fertilizer on soil nutrient availability and harvest index of maize. The results showed that the application of Tithonia either alone or in combination with fertilizer can increase yield by 24% and 54% respectively compared to plots which received no inputs.