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Modeling sorghum-cowpea intercropping for a site in the savannah zone of Mali: Strengths and weaknesses of the Stics model
Field Crops Research  (IF6.145),  Pub Date : 2022-06-14, DOI: 10.1016/j.fcr.2022.108581
Amadou Traoré, Gatien N. Falconnier, Alassane Ba, Fagaye Sissoko, Benjamin Sultan, François Affholder

Intercropping is a key entry point for sustainable intensification of cropping systems in sub-Saharan Africa where variable rainfall conditions prevail. Crop simulation models can complement field experiments to assess the agronomic and environmental performances of intercropping systems under diverse climatic conditions, including hypothetical future climate. So far, crop models that can handle intercropping, such as STICS, have not often been extensively evaluated for tropical conditions and for species grown by farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. The objective of this study was to evaluate the performance of the calibrated STICS model to simulate sorghum-cowpea intercropping systems in rainfed conditions in West Africa. We used data from field experiments conducted at the N'Tarla Agronomic Station in Mali in 2017 and 2018. Two varieties of sorghum (local and improved) with contrasting photoperiod sensitivities were grown as sole crop and intercropped with cowpea, with additive design. Two sowing dates and two levels of mineral fertilization were also investigated. Model simulations were evaluated with observed data for phenology, leaf area index (LAI), aboveground biomass, grain yield and in-season soil moisture. Large variations in aboveground biomass of sorghum and cowpea was observed in the experiment (i.e. 3.5 – 9.6 t/ha for sorghum and 0.4–2.5 t/ha for cowpea), owing to the treatments (i.e. sole vs intercrop, early vs late sowing, no fertilizer input vs fertilizer input). Such variations were satisfactorily reproduced by the model, with EF of 0.81 in calibration and 0.58 in evaluation (with relative rRMSE of 23 % and 43 %) across crops. Sorghum AGB simulations were more accurate (rRMSE of 21 % and EF of 0.54) than cowpea AGB simulations (rRMSE of 25 % and EF of −0.09). The two main observed features of the intercropping system were well reproduced by the model. Firstly, cowpea and sorghum aboveground biomass decreased with intercropping compared with sole cropping, and the decrease in cowpea biomass was greater than the decrease in sorghum biomass. Secondly, despite a reduction in sorghum and cowpea yield, Land Equivalent Ratio of the intercropping for aboveground biomass was always above one. With regard to grain yield, observed LER was above one only in the non-fertilized treatment. The model failed at reproducing this behavior, probably because of insufficiently accurate calibration of the process leading to grain yield formation: rRMSE for grain yield was 49 % in calibration and 41 % in evaluation. Based on these findings, we discuss avenues to improve model calibration and use the model to explore options for sustainable intensification in land constrained sub-Saharan Africa.