Bambara groundnut response to controlled environment and planting date associated water stress.
Bambara groundnut is a protein-rich legume, with food security potential in drought-prone regions. It has been grown for many centuries and has remained an important crop to most African subsistence farmers. However, despite its high nutritional status and yield advantages in poor soils, it remains one of the neglected crops by science. There have now been recent efforts to study underutilised crops, with the aim of promoting them as healthy alternatives for people facing resource and environmental challenges and to contribute to food security. In order to do this, there needs to be information that can be used to advise farmers on the agronomic aspects of producing the crop. The overall aim of the study was to evaluate the response of bambara groundnut landraces to drought under controlled environment and field conditions. Seeds were initially collected from subsistence farmers in Jozini, KwaZulu-Natal, and characterised into three seed lots distinguished by seed coat colour: red, white and brown. In the initial study (Chapter 2) seed quality of bambara groundnuts was evaluated. Seed lots were used for standard germination (SG) and cold test (CT). Seeds were germinated under two conditions, 25°C for 8 days (SG) and 4°C for 7 days followed by 8 days at 25°C (CT). Germination percentage, seedling size and mass were determined. Desiccation tolerance was evaluated by suspending 30 seeds of each seed lot over saturated salt solutions of NaCl, LiCl, KNO3 and H2O (control) for 0, 2, 4, 8, 24 and 48 hours. Five seeds were sampled at each interval and stored at -21°C for 7 days. Samples were ground and analysed for proline content. In addition, early establishment performance of bambara groundnut was evaluated under controlled environment conditions in seedling trays using two water regimes (Chapter 2). The experimental design had three factors: seed lot (colour), priming (NaCl, LiCl, KNO3, H2O and control) and water regimes [25% and 75% Field Capacity (F.C.)]. The experiment was replicated three times. Seedling emergence was determined daily for 21 days. Seedling height and leaf number were determined weekly for three weeks, thereafter, seedling leaf area, root and shoot mass (fresh and dry), root and shoot lengths and root to shoot ratio were also determined. Seedlings were later transplanted in 90 pots for a pot trial in order to evaluate growth responses of bambara groundnut to water stress; plant height, leaf number and yield components were determined (Chapter 3). Lastly, the use of planting date selection as a management strategy for managing the occurrence of water stress under field conditions was evaluated in field trials. The experimental design was a split-split-plot design with planting date as main factor (early, optimum and late), irrigation and rainfed as sub-main factor, and seed colour as sub-plots (brown, red and white) arranged in a randomised complete block design (RCBD), with three replications. There were three planting dates: 7 September (early planting), 24 November (optimum planting) and 19 January (late planting). Results from Chapter 2 showed that the brown seed lot had the highest germination across treatments, followed by red and white seeds, respectively. There were significant differences between seed lots (P < 0.05) and salt solutions (P < 0.05) with respect to proline content. Seed proline content increased from 0 to 8 hours and later declined; NaCl was associated with the highest proline accumulation. There were highly significant differences (P < 0.001) between seed colours, priming treatments and F.C., as well as their interaction, with respect to seedling emergence. White seeds had the highest emergence, followed by brown and red, respectively. Priming seeds improved their emergence compared to the control, with highest emergence being observed in seeds treated with LiCl. Priming also improved emergence under water stress; 25% F.C. had the highest emergence compared to 75% F.C. Results from Chapter 3 showed that, seeds primed with NaCl and KNO3 resulted in tallest plants with the highest number of leaves per plant. However, NaCl and KNO3 were also the most affected under water stress. Priming was shown to improve germination and early crop establishment of bambara groundnut landraces under water stress. However, yield per plant did not improve in response to either halo- or hydro-priming. Results from field trials showed that in terms of the measured plant growth parameters (plant height, leaf number and LAI), bambara groundnut landraces were sensitive water stress. Water stress decreased yield components, and hence yield. However, selection of planting dates was shown to be a useful management tool for managing water stress under water limited field conditions. Choice of planting date significantly affected both plant growth and yield. The optimum planting date resulted in the best crop growth for all measured plant growth parameters followed by late and early planting dates, respectively. Seed quality was shown to be associated with seed lot colour. Darker coloured (red and brown) seeds performed better than light (white) seeds with respect to germination. Priming was also shown to improve germination and early crop establishment of bambara groundnut landraces under water stress. However, yield per plant did not improve following priming. Growth of bambara groundnut landraces was shown to be sensitive to water stress. Water stress decreased yield components and hence yield under both controlled and field conditions. Choice of planting date significantly affected both plant growth and yield. The optimum planting date was shown to be the best performing planting date. The findings of this study suggest that bambara groundnut seed performance in terms of germination, stand establishment and productivity is associated with seed lot colour. Seed priming improves seed performance and enhances crop capacity to withstand water stress. If the optimum planting date for groundnuts (late spring to early summer) is missed, better crop performance and yield are obtained from late planting (late summer to early spring) compared with early planting (early spring). Bambara groundnut has a potential for production under water stress conditions in controlled and field environments.
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