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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains
greatest of all agronomic challenges—not just for Africa and not just for pearl millet.
In certain places, deposits of rock phosphate have been located. This almost insoluble phosphorus-containing mineral has seldom been tapped for fertilizer in the past. But it is potentially a major source of phosphate for regions in extremity. Unlike standard soluble fertilizers, it doesn't provide an instant jolt of good nutrition, but it is nonetheless a most valuable source of a prime nutrient that plants need to remain healthy, robust, and high yielding. Certain parts of West Africa have deposits of rock phosphate that could be tapped for this purpose.
For providing nitrogen to a subsistence farmer's crops, probably nothing is more practical than biological sources. Nitrogen can be obtained in this way by:
Incorporating crop residues or animal manures into the soil;
Using leguminous food plants (such as cowpea or peanuts) in crop rotations;
Intercropping with herbaceous soil-building legumes such as stylosanthes or macroptilium; or
Incorporating nitrogen-fixing tree species such as Acacia albida into the fields.14
With pearl millet there is also the potential to get nitrogen directly from a beneficial microorganism that can live on its roots. Such nitrogen-fixing symbioses between a plant and a microbe are characteristic of many legumes, but of only a few grasses. Pearl millet is one of those few. It benefits from a nitrogen-fixing bacterium called azospirillum. Recent trials in Maharashtra, India, have shown that when pearl millet plants were inoculated with azospirillum, the yield of both grain and fodder was significantly increased.15
This very interesting African tree, which can add nitrogen to the cropping system and also provide important windbreak effects, is described in the companion report Tropical Legumnes. For a list of BOSTID reports, see page 377.
A.S. Jadhav, A.A. Shaikh, A.B. Shinde, and G. Harinarayana. 1990. Effects of growth hormones, biofertilizer and micronutrients on the yield of pearl millet. Journal of Maharashtra Agricultural Universities 15(2): 159-161.