Nelly Bassily | January 31, 2011
This story was inspired by a news item which appeared on SciDev.net in December 2010. The news item quoted a study which said that farmers “could” benefit by rotating legume crops with maize crops, and therefore be less dependent on fertilizer subsidized by the government. As rotation and intercropping are not new practices, and their benefits are well documented, we wanted to hear from a farmer who actually was benefitting from these practices, and using less fertilizer.
The Farm Radio Weekly Bureau in Malawi found such a farmer, Mathews Phiri. Since he began intercropping pigeon peas with maize two years ago, Mr. Phiri no longer needs to buy fertilizer. And, he does not have to wait to see if he is eligible for the subsidy. Farmers like Mr. Phiri achieve the best results with rotation and intercropping when crops and timings are tailored to suit local soils and climates. He may see his yields level off after three years of intercropping. At this time, he might need to rotate his crops, and think about supplementing with manure or fertilizer to maintain current yields.
Here is the SciDev.net story: Diversifying crops ‘could green African agriculture’: http://www.scidev.net/en/news/diversifying-crops-could-green-african-agriculture-.html
A similar story was reported on VOA News: Bean Crops May Cut Fertilizer Use, Subsidy Costs: http://www.voanews.com/english/news/africa/Bean-Crops-May-Cut-Fertilizer-Use-Subsidy-Costs-111540674.html
For a simple explanation of intercropping, its advantages, and further links, go to: http://www.oisat.org/control_methods/cultural__practices/intercropping.html.
More detailed information about intercropping in Africa can be found here: http://www.knowledgebank.irri.org/ckb/index.php/agronomy/maize-intercropping-systems-in-africa .
Farm Radio Weekly has previously published stories related to intercropping:
Uganda: Coffee and bananas make good neighbours (FRW 90, November 2009). http://weekly.farmradio.org/2009/11/30/2-uganda-coffee-and-bananas-make-good-neighbours-iita/
Africa: Re-discovery of traditional crops helps farmers cope with climate change (FRW 87, November 2009). http://weekly.farmradio.org/2009/11/09/3-africa-re-discovery-of-traditional-crops-helps-farmers-cope-with-climate-change-farm-radio-weekly/
Scripts previously published by Farm Radio International on intercropping include:
Crop Rotation and Intercropping Reduce Damage from Striga Weed (Package 72, Script 6, September 2004)
Diversity beats disease in the rice field (Package 58, Script 3, January 2001) http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/58-3script_en.asp
Diversify crops to keep your family healthy (Package 65, Script 1, October 2002) http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/65-1script_en.asp
Under the right circumstances, and when farmers carefully manage the right combination of crops, intercropping is a useful technique that can benefit soils, help avoid pests and improve yields. But farmers can still benefit from using fertilizer, whether in the form of compost, manure or purchased chemical fertilizer.
There is much discussion among scientists, extension advisers and farmers about which type of fertilizer is most effective. This would make an interesting topic for a call-in or text-in show. You could start the discussion by interviewing two farmers who have different opinions. Choice of fertilizer depends on many factors – ask farmers about costs, availability of compost/manure and chemical fertilizer, what crops they use the fertilizer on and why, and on which areas of the farm they use fertilizer. Many farmers apply fertilizer only on fields close to the homestead for practical reasons. What results were farmers looking for when they made their decisions? And what results did they get? Would they be willing to try out other forms of fertilizer? Do they discuss options with other farmers?