Increased food production and farmers’ income through coffee-banana intercropping

Background: Agriculture in Uganda

Uganda is a landlocked country with a total population of 34.9 million and a surface area of 241,000 km2 of which about 73% is arable land (World Bank 2020).

About 72 % of the working population is subsistence peasant farmers and cultivating in average less than 3 ha (NEMA 2014, UBOS 2020). 5.7 million ha are under annual crops while 2.2 million ha are under permanent crops.

Smallholder system are mostly subsistence-oriented, growing maize, beans, groundnuts, cassava, millet, sorghum, sweet potato, and banana. Ugandan small-scale farmers have been experiencing farming challenges due to climate change, political instability, changes in market demand and change in farming technologies (UBOS 2020).

Although smallholders’ farmers have been recognized as key contributors in food production and environmental conservation, the zones in which they live have been associated with poor infrastructures, inadequate access to basic social amenities and malnutrition (Mukadasi 2018, UBOS 2020).

A traditional approach to diversified farming

Limited by their socio-economic capacity, farmers have found new, low-cost ways to manage their farming systems to accommodate changing climate and livelihoods. One of these approaches is intercropping, or planting multiple crop species together in the same field.

Intercropping increases the amount and diversity of food produced on a plot of land, as multiple species can make more efficient use of light, space, and nutrients than one species planted alone.

Increased total productivity and crop diversity improve households’ food security, making a wide range of foods more available (Mukadasi 2018, UBOS 2020). Farmers’ can also earn more through intercropping, as they can sell higher value crops to get better market prices (Mukadasi 2018).

Farmers have traditionally applied intercropping to food crops, such as beans, maize, cassava, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and bananas, but recently some farmers have integrated cash crops with great success.

Coffee and banana intercropping

Figure 1. Coffee-banana intercropping in Uganda
Figure 1. Coffee-banana intercropping in Uganda

Coffee and banana are primarily cash and food crops in Uganda. Banana acts as a staple food meeting more than 10% of the dietary energy requirements in Uganda (Jassogne et al. 2013).

Farmers have been intercropping due to declining farm sizes in an effort to reduce risks related to income and food security.

Here we summarize the benefits of intercropping coffee and banana reported by farmers from central, western and eastern parts of Uganda.

Reducing the risk of hunger with a versatile cropping system

Coffee-banana intercropping has been adopted by a large number of farmers in Uganda who recognize its advantages for income generation, sustainable domestic food production, environmental health, and drought and disease resistance (Mukadasi 2018).

Farmers know that different crops survive differently under varying conditions, hence practicing intercropping on the same unit of land reduces the risk of total crop failure, and the food insecurity that such an event implies.

Coffee plants fruit for the first time several years after planting, signifying a delayed financial return on farmers’ initial investment. This lack of income during the first few years can be prohibitive for poorer farmers, who need to use their land for productive crops.

Planting bananas, which mature quickly, together with coffee gives farmers a source of food and cash at the early phases of coffee development.

Once coffee plants mature, they can be harvested twice a year, providing an important income source at these moments, while banana provides food and modest income continuously.

Providing multiple benefits for farming households

Intercropped bananas provide leaves and stalks that can be used as mulch between the coffee trees. This mulch suppresses weeds, which would have been manually weeded by farmers.

As a result, farmers found that coffee-banana intercropping decreased their workload at the same time as this practice reduced losses associated with weed infestations.

In addition to being a valuable mulch, the banana produces pseudostems which are fed to livestock, facilitating farmers’ ability to further integrate their crop-livestock systems. This source of livestock fodder allows farmers to enclose animals, rather than letting them graze freely, and thus collect their manure in one place to be used to enhance soil fertility.

Coffee-banana intercropping can influence farm gender dynamics. Generally, men’s work is mainly associated with cash crops while women with food crops for household use.

After integrating bananas into coffee fields, women were more motivated to work in the fields, as bananas can be used for household consumption. Intercropping therefore can improve the balance between the women’s and men’s interests in field work.

Figure 2. Farmer in Nsangi Wakiso District practicing coffee-banana intercropping in Uganda
Figure 2. Farmer in Nsangi Wakiso District practicing coffee-banana intercropping in Uganda

Environmental conditions for high quality coffee

The farmers and extension officers claimed that coffee produced on intercropped fields was of good quality and high yield. This outcome is linked to the positive environmental effects of coffee-banana intercropping; banana is a provider of ground cover and shade for coffee shrubs, creating a suitable microclimate for coffee quality. The mulching also helped to retain water and control runoff and erosion. As a result, coffee plants from intercropped plots was greener and less affected by drought.

Farmers found that intercropping coffee and banana reduced the spread of the disease, and the additional income from banana selling buffered coffee production losses due to the disease.

Reducing coffee disease

Farmers who cropped pure stands of coffee experienced losses of trees and production due to infestation of coffee wilt disease. Farmers found that intercropping coffee and banana reduced the spread of the disease, and the additional income from banana selling buffered coffee production losses due to the disease.

An accessible technology

Extension service and farm tools have been recognized as a key factor in adoption of new farm practices or crops, but not all practices and technologies are accessible, especially to poorer farmers.

As intercropping is a practice with which Ugandan farmers are already familiar, farmers’ were able to apply this traditional knowledge to coffee-banana production, and thus easily engage with the practice.

Conclusion

Coffee-banana intercropping provides benefits to farmers, from increased food production and income, to reduced workload, to improved gender dynamics.

It also has environmental benefits with improved soil and water conservation hence providing base for sustainable production of raw materials.

  • Farmers’ experimentation and application of the practice is built on traditional knowledge, but further support and exchange of knowledge regarding plant interactions and pest and disease management could identify further innovations for this agroecological system.

References

  • Jassonge, L., van Asten, P.J.A., Wanyama, I., Baret, P.V. (2013). Perceptions and outlook on intercropping coffee with banana as an opportunity for smallholder coffee farmers in Uganda. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 11(2), 144-158.
  • Mukadasi, B. (2018). Mixed cropping systems for sustainable domestic food supply of the smallholder farming communities in Nakasongola District, Central Uganda. Canadian Journal of Agriculture and Crops, 3(1), 42-54.

Further information:

  • van Asten, P.J.A., Wairegi, L.W.I., Mukasa, D., Uringi, N.O. (2011). Agronomic and economic benefits of coffee–banana intercropping in Uganda’s smallholder farming systems, Agricultural Systems 104, (4), 326-334.