Rotations are important practices for managing soil fertility on smallholder farms. Six cropping sequences (cassava, pigeonpea, mucuna-maize-mucuna, cowpea-maize-cowpea, maize-maize-maize, and speargrass fallow) were evaluated during 2003-2004 in Wenchi district of Ghana for their effects on the profitability of the different rotations and the productivity of subsequent maize. Soil chemical properties were not significantly affected by cropping sequence. On the researcher-managed and farmer-managed plots maize grain yields were significantly influenced by cropping sequence. On the researcher-managed plots maize grain yield ranged from 1.0 t ha(-1) after speargrass fallow to 3.0 t ha(-1) with cassava cropping when N fertiliser was not applied to maize and from 2.1 t ha(-1) with continuous maize to 4.2 t ha(-1) with mucuna-maize-mucuna when 60 kg N ha(-1) was applied to maize. On the farmer-in an aged plots where N fertiliser was not applied to maize, maize grain yields ranged from 0.4 t ha(-1) on speargrass fallow to 2.2 t ha(-1) on plots previously cropped to pigeonpea. High maize grain yields associated with the cropping sequences involving cassava, mucuna and pigeompea were related to the faster decomposition and N release of the biomass compared with the slower release of N by the poorer quality materials like maize stover and speargrass. Return on investment of the different rotational sequences ranged from -22% with speargrass/maize to 235% with cassava/maize when no N application was made to maize, and from 29% with continuous maize to 196% with cassava/maize when N fertiliser was applied to maize. Cassava/maize rotation was ranked by native farmers as the most preferred rotation whereas migrant farmers ranked cowpea-maize-cowpea-maize as the most preferred rotation. Among natives, male farmers ranked rotation involving cowpea as the next most preferred rotation after cassava/maize. In contrast, female farmers ranked pigeonpea/maize rotation as the second most preferred rotation, due to low labour and external input requirements of pigeonpea compared with cowpea. The choice of a particular rotational sequence is related to access to resources and the needs of the farmer. The study therefore suggests that, in a heterogeneous farming community like Wenchi, technology development should be targeted to suit the needs and resources available to each particular group of farmers. (c) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.