Trade-offs and synergies associated with maize leaf stripping within crop-livestock systems in northern Ghana

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The accessibility and availability of forages is a common concern in crop-livestock systems in West Africa; however, options to increase forage production may entail trade-offs within the farm system that can be challenging to quantify explicitly.

This study examined how maize (Zea mays L.) leaf stripping affected maize and sheep productivity and associated labour requirements, and farm system trade-offs and synergies in four communities in the Northern Region of Ghana.

Maize leaf stripping involved removing almost senesced leaves from maize plants below the cob level at silking. We combined data from three sources: on-farm maize trials with 28 farmers from two seasons (2017 and 2018), on-farm sheep feeding trials where the pasture-based diets of weaner sheep were supplemented with stripped maize leaves fed in pens (conducted in 2019), and farm survey data from 117 households (conducted in 2014), seven of which were in the on-farm maize trials and owned sheep. We examined the trial data using linear mixed-effects models.

Maize leaf stripping had no significant effect on maize grain yield but had a significant positive effect on maize forage protein yield from leaf and stover. Offering maize leaves to weaner sheep had a significant positive effect on average daily liveweight gain, estimated marginal mean was 29.3 g with maize leaves and −10.9 g without maize leaves. For the maize-sheep systems of the seven households, non-inferential statistics suggested that on average maize leaf stripping reduced total maize grain production by 12% (range −46 to 38) and increased maize forage protein production from leaf and stover by 90% (range −16 to 298). Stripping the maize leaves from one hectare of land took an extra 34 h (range 27 to 42) of labour, which was counterbalanced by reduced labour time for grazing as sheep were fed the maize leaves in pens. For the 117 farmers, heterogeneity in maize areas planted and livestock numbers resulted in heterogeneous production and labour effects of maize leaf stripping. Farmers qualitatively described how maize leaf stripping released labour so children could spend more time at school rather than shepherding.

We quantified in northern Ghana how maize leaf stripping altered crop and livestock productivity and associated trade-offs and synergies in the farm system, including labour. Changes in crop management often have implications beyond the crop’s field and examining these implications can provide insights into the suitability of alternative farm management options.

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Komarek, A.M., Rahman, N.A., Bandyopadhyay, A., Kizito, F., Koo, J. & Addah, W.

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