Intercropping millet with low-density cowpea improves millet productivity for low and medium N input in semi-arid central Senegal
Cereal-legume intercropping has been traditionally practiced across West Africa by farmers and provides resilience of agriculture to climate variability. Intensification of these extensive intercropping systems in order to meet future food demand is critical. This study aims at evaluating the agronomic performance of the intensification of millet-cowpea intercropping with low cowpea density, and its variation with climate variability, using an on-station experiment in Bambey, Senegal. Two trials (irrigated vs rainfed) were set up to compare millet sole- and inter-cropping with a grain and a fodder variety of cowpea, in 2018 and 2019. Two levels of fertilization were tested: 0 kg(N) ha−1 and 69 kg(N) ha−1. The two cropping years were contrasting and water stress around flowering and/or during grain filling (indicated by the Fraction of Transpirable Soil Water) was higher in 2019 than in 2018 in the rainfed experiment. In both experiment and for all treatments, land equivalent ratio (LER) in the intercropping was 1.6 and 1.4 for grain and biomass respectively. Millet aboveground biomass was significantly higher in intercropping than in sole cropping in the irrigated experiment but not in the rainfed experiment. In the rainfed experiment, the interaction between cropping system and year was significant, so that millet aboveground biomass was greater in intercropping than in sole cropping in 2018 (year of lower water stress) but not in 2019 (year of higher water stress). The effect of fertilization on millet aboveground biomass did not significantly interact with cropping system (sole vs intercrop). For grain yield, fertilization interacted significantly with the cropping system in the irrigated trial: the benefits of intercropping on millet grain yield were greater with 69 kg(N) ha−1 than with 0 kg(N) ha−1. This significant interaction could not be observed in the rainfed trial, potentially due to water stress. These results show that the level of water stress (related here to the year and to the rainfed or irrigated experiment) and that of fertilization modulate the performance of millet-cowpea intercropping in the semi-arid context of Senegal. Overall, fertilization had a stronger effect on millet grain yield than intercropping. The two strategies (intercropping and mineral fertilization) can be complementary to achieve sustainable intensification of cropping system in semi-arid areas of West Africa.