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Universität Hohenheim (2021)

Environmental and farm management effects on food nutrient concentrations and yields of East African staple food crops

Fischer, Sahrah

Titre : Environmental and farm management effects on food nutrient concentrations and yields of East African staple food crops

Umwelteinflüsse und anthropogene Effekte auf die Nährstoffkonzentration in landwirtschaftlichen Erzeugnissen in Ostafrika

Auteur : Fischer, Sahrah

Université de soutenance :

Grade : Doktor der Agrarwissenschaften” (Dr. sc. agr.) 2021

Hidden hunger affects two billion people worldwide, particularly children and pregnant women. Human health and well-being are dependent on the quality and quantity of food consumed, particularly of plant-based foods. Plants source their nutrients from the soil. Essential nutrients for both, plants and humans, therefore, predominantly originate from the soil. Very little is known about the influence of environmental factors (e.g. soil types and abiotic factors, such as weather), or farm management choices (e.g. fertilisation or agrobiodiversity), on nutrient concentrations of edible crop parts. The main aim of this thesis was, therefore, to analyse the effects of soil fertility, farm management, and abiotic factors such as drought, on the quantity (yields) and quality (nutrient concentrations) of essential macro- (Mg, P, S, K, Ca) and micronutrients (Fe, Zn, Mn and Cu), of the edible parts of three East African staple food crops, i.e. maize (Zea mays L.), cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz), and matooke (East African Highland Banana (Musa acuminata Colla)), and discuss the resulting implications for food and nutrition security. Two research areas were selected in East Africa, one with a high fertility soil (Kapchorwa, Uganda - Nitisol) and one with a low fertility soil (Teso South, Kenya – Ferralsol). In each region, 72 households were randomly selected, and leaf and edible crop parts, and soil samples collected on three fields per household, organised by distance (closest, mid-distance, and farthest field). Maize and cassava were collected in Teso South, maize and matooke were collected in Kapchorwa. Yields, fertilizer usage and species richness (SR) and diversity (SD) were recorded per field. The total nutrient concentrations were measured in all samples collected (soils and plant parts). A drought occurring in the second rain season of 2016 provided the opportunity to analyse water stress effects on crop quantity and quality (Chapter 2). Edible part samples and yields collected in both seasons were compared. Soil chemical and physical properties, together with farm management variables, were compared to edible part nutrient concentrations and yields using a Canonical Correspondence Analysis (CCA) (Chapter 3). To understand the strength of association between the measurements routinely done by agronomists (leaf measurement) and nutritionists (edible part measurement), samples of each crop were collected, and were compared to each other and to yields, using a bivariate linear mixed model (Chapter 4). During the severe drought, nutrient concentrations in Kapchorwa decreased significantly from normal to drought season in both crops. In contrast, during the moderate drought in Teso South, nutrient concentrations increased significantly in both crops. Lacking nutrient phloem mobility is suggested to play a vital role in mobilisation of micronutrients (Fe, Mn, and Cu), as shown by their decreased concentration under severe drought in the yields of both crops in Kapchorwa (Chapter 2). Soil type had a very strong effect on food nutrient concentrations. Maize grain nutrient concentrations and yields, for example, were significantly higher for all nutrients measured on higher fertility soils. Maize grain had the highest correlations with soil factors. In contrast, corresponding correlations to management factors were much weaker (Chapter 3). Concerning the comparison of nutrient concentrations in different plant parts, low phloem mobile nutrients Ca, Mn, Fe, Zn, and Cu showed the largest differences in correlations between leaves and edible parts. In the same comparison, perennial crops (matooke and cassava) showed lower correlations between leaves and edible parts, than annual crops (maize) (Chapter 4). Environmental factors, such as drought impacted food nutrient concentrations. Severe drought caused a potential “double-burden” for consumers, decreasing both yields and nutrient concentrations, particularly of micronutrients. Considering food nutrient concentrations, apart from yield, as response variables in agronomic trials (e.g. fertilisation or soil improvement strategies) would contribute towards discounting the notion that crops growing on fertile soils always produce healthy and high-quality foods. Leaves may provide information on plant health, however, do not provide enough information to gauge both yields and food quality, particularly regarding micronutrients. The results also showed that measuring the edible part is vital to assessing food quality, particularly due to the observed effects of nutrient mobility, affecting particularly micronutrients and Ca. Ending hunger and improving food and nutrition security for all, particularly when confronted with global change issues such as degrading soils and a changing climate, requires a collaborative effort by all disciplines concerned.

Mots clés  : Plant nutrition , human nutrition , micronutrients , climate change , environment


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