Tithonia diversifolia as a green manure for soil fertility improvement in western Kenya: a review.
The shrub species Tithonia diversifolia is widely distributed along farm boundaries in the humid and subhumid tropics of Africa. Green biomass of tithonia has been recognized as an effective source of nutrients for lowland rice (Oryza sativa) in Asia and more recently for maize (Zea mays) and vegetables in eastern and southern Africa. This paper reviews the potential of tithonia green biomass for soil fertility improvement based on recent research in western Kenya. Green leaf biomass of tithonia is high in nutrients, averaging about 3.5% N, 0.37% P and 4.1% K on a dry matter basis. Boundary hedges of sole tithonia can produce about 1 kg biomass (tender stems+leaves) m-1 yr.-1 on a dry weight basis. Tithonia biomass decomposes rapidly after application to soil, and incorporated biomass can be an effective source of N, P and K for crops. In some cases, maize yields were even higher with incorporation of tithonia biomass than with commercial mineral fertilizer at equivalent rates of N, P and K. In addition to providing nutrients, tithonia incorporated at 5 t dry matter ha-1 can reduce P sorption and increase soil microbial biomass. Because of high labour requirements for cutting and carrying the biomass to fields, the use of tithonia biomass as a nutrient source is more profitable with high-value crops such as vegetables than with relatively low-valued maize. The transfer of tithonia biomass to fields constitutes the redistribution of nutrients within the landscape rather than a net input of nutrients. External inputs of nutrients would eventually be required to sustain production of tithonia when biomass is continually cut and transferred to agricultural land.