Flash floods, erratically striking semi-arid regions, often cause field flooding and soil anoxia, resulting in crop losses on food staples, typically pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum L.) and sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench). Recent glasshouse studies have indicated that rice (Oryza spp.) can enhance flood stress tolerance of co-growing dryland cereals by modifying their rhizosphere microenvironments via the oxygen released from its roots into the aqueous rhizosphere. We tested whether this phenomenon would be expressed under field flood conditions. The effects of mix-planting of pearl millet and sorghum with rice on their survival, growth and grain yields were evaluated under controlled field flooding in semi-arid Namibia during 2014/2015–2015/2016. Single-stand and mixed plant treatments were subjected to 11–22 day flood stress at the vegetative growth stage. Mixed planting increased plant survival rates in both pearl millet and sorghum. Grain yields of pearl millet and sorghum were reduced by flooding, in both the single-stand and mixed plant treatments, relative to the non-flooded upland yields, but the reduction was lower in the mixed plant treatments. In contrast, flooding increased rice yields. Both pearl millet–rice and sorghum–rice mixtures demonstrated higher land equivalent ratios, indicating a mixed planting advantage under flood conditions. These results indicate that mix-planting pearl millet and sorghum with rice could alleviate flood stress on dryland cereals. The results also suggest that with this cropping technique, rice could compensate for the dryland cereal yield losses due to field flooding.
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