Nelly Bassily | November 30, 2009
Ugandan coffee farmers have discovered that there’s room for something else in their fields. By intercropping bananas, they’re boosting their incomes by up to 50 per cent.
A study by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and Ugandan National Agricultural Research Organization uncovered the secret to their success. They first found that coffee farmers who plant bananas produce about the same coffee yield. They had less room to plant coffee, but each coffee plant produced more.
Piet van Asten is a scientist with the institute. He explains why coffee and bananas make good neighbours. Coffee plants thrive in shade, which is provided by tall banana trees. Banana trees also add biomass to the soil, acting as a natural fertilizer.
Since coffee yields remain about the same, the income from bananas is a bonus. Coffee provides substantial income twice a year. But bananas provide food and modest cash flow throughout the year.
The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture is promoting intercropping in Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They urge coffee farmers to add banana trees to their fields and banana farmers to add coffee plants to their plantations.