Investment in soil phosphorus (P) capital in the tropics is often constrained by poor availability of mineral fertiliser to small-scale farmers. Consequently, new sustainable agricultural cropping strategies are required to maintain fertility and maximise crop yields. The co-application of Tithonia diversifolia (Tithonia) green manure and mineral fertiliser (KH2PO4) together (integrated nutrient management) in comparison to the addition of one or the other alone has been hypothesized to promote crop P uptake. The aim of this study was to critically evaluate the benefits of integrated nutrient management practices in laboratory experiments. Wheat was grown as a test crop in microcosms to which either 32P-labelled mineral fertiliser or 33P-labelled Tithonia was added either singly or in combination. Exclusion meshes were used to determine the role of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi in P uptake from the different P sources. The rate of uptake of both 32P and 33P by mycorrhizas was similar, and the rate of mycorrhizal P capture was comparable to that of roots. Generally, there was little difference in wheat P acquisition under integrated nutrient management treatments in comparison to P acquisition from 32P-mineral fertiliser or the addition of 33P-Tithonia alone. Overall, Tithonia residues were not very effective in supplying P to wheat over a short time evaluation period, suggesting that mineral fertilisers will still be required to satisfy crop demand.
Tithonia diversifolia; 32P-labelled mineral fertiliser; 33P-labelled tithonia; green manure; sustainable agriculture