Intercropping improves Ugandan banana and coffee yields
Written by Brendan Jackson and Chris Mesiku
“In Uganda, coffee and banana go better together” writes Caity Peterson in the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) blog. She suggests growing bananas and coffee together bears a number of advantages such as better use of scarce land in Uganda. According to her, coffee makes up “20-30% of Uganda's foreign exchange earnings” and bananas are the staple diet of most rural farmers. Such high demand for both coffee and banana had motivated various CGIAR Centres to explore ways of increasing the yields of both crops through intercropping.
Coffee and bananas grow at approximately the same altitudes between 800 to 2300 meters, making them ideal to be combined in the same farm plot. Aside a more effective use of scarce land, intercropping banana and coffee have other co-benefits such as helping adaption to climate change, and pest control.
Peterson states that coffee yields are higher when grown “with a little bit of shade” and the banana trees help shelter the coffee from various climate conditions such as storms. Furthermore the combination of these two crops allows the farmers to tend to the banana produce for the first three years of cultivation, whilst the coffee plants are still maturing.
The banana leaves can be used as mulch and farmers also benefit from either selling the bananas or using it for home consumption. Even though intercropping has clear advantages, there are some disadvantages.
The growing of two different crops on a single piece of land places a higher strain upon the land, with more nutrients such as nitrates and ammonia being consumed at a faster rate. There is also more work required at the start of the cultivation. However, how much strain the land experiences, depends on the extent to which the crops are indigenous to that land. To address this challenge, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture is investigating “suitability maps for East African coffee crops, pests, and diseases” to further help farmers intercrop the right trees in the right places.