economic and ecological benefits of intercropping: BENEFIT-REALISE expereince in psnp households

The context

Shortage of food and low dietary diversity are the major challenges of PSNP households in Southern Ethiopia. The households face food gaps of 3-7 months per year, and even when food is available, their diet is not well balanced as it often lacks protein and vitamin source foods. Since 2018, BENEFIT-RELISE Hawassa University cluster has been engaged in selection, validation and introduction of best fit agricultural practices that are suitable to the different agroecological and socioeconomic settings of the target woredas.  

The intervention

Intercropping is considered as one of crop intensification strategies to increase agricultural productivity per unit area of land. It is more effective when we identify the most compatible combinations of leguminous crops with non-leguminous ones. In this respect, the BENEFIT-REALISE Hawassa University cluster considered intercropping of maize and haricot bean as one of the appropriate technologies to mitigate the dual problems of food shortage and poor nutritional status of PSNP farmers in the mid highland woredas of the cluster.

Intercropping of maize with haricot bean, has various economic and ecological benefits: Economically, the total productivity from the two crops that are grown simultaneously on the same piece of land, is higher than the sole-cropping practice of the individual crops calculated in terms of total grain yield or monetary value. The presence of legume (haricot bean) in the cropping systems improves nutritional security of households and contributes to improved soil fertility and reduced cost of fertilizers. In addition, to increasing total productivity of land, it fills the food gap months since it reaches maturity earlier than maize; it enhances the soil fertility; it reduces weed infestation and cost of weeding; and improves nutritional wellbeing of households because it is rich in protein. 

Considering these economic and ecological potentials, BENEFIT-REALISE Hawassa University cluster implemented demonstration and pre-scaling of intercropping of maize with haricot bean. The varieties selected for this purpose were, BH-546 for maize and Hawassa dume for haricot bean. The selection was based on adaptability of the varieties to the sites and also their compatibility. In 2019, the cluster demonstrated maize-bean intercropping practice on 80 farms and 8 FTCs, in 8 kebeles from Halaba, Shashogo and Silte woredas. Participating farmers were provided with inputs (seed and fertilizers) and training to implement the demonstrations.

Yield data collected from the demonstration trials of 2019 showed that productivity was 2-3 times higher than the farmers’ common practices of mono-cropping. The average yield obtained from intercropping fields of the sample farms was 76.1 quintals ha-1 of maize and 26.6 quintals of haricot bean ha-1, making up a total of 102.7 quintals ha-1. The intercropping yield was also compared with sole crop of the same varieties of maize and bean grown at the same sites and under the same management. The result indicated that the yield obtained from one hectare of intercropping field would have taken 1.85 hectares, if the two crops were grown as sole crop. This clearly demonstrated the potential of intercropping to maximize yield from a unit area of land.

In 2020, due to excellent performance of the technology in the demonstration trials and farmers’ interest, the project in collaboration with the respective woredas, implemented pre-scaling of maize-bean intercropping on 300 farms in the same woredas. The pre-scaling was done using the same varieties maize (BH-546) and haricot bean (Hawassa dume) on a total of 37.5 hectares by the 300 farmers. BENEFIT-REALISE provided each farmer with seed; 3.25 kg maize and 4.6 kg haricot bean to plant on 0.125 hectare of land. In-situ training was given to participating farmers and extension workers on field and crop management practices. The training on spacing of the plants has been particularly very important because the success of intercropping depends on proper utilization of available space and minimizing competition between the plants. One of the good achievements in this activity is that many farmers through participation in the demonstration and also in pre-scaling, have developed skills on field preparation, row planting and proper spacing of the intercrops. This is likely to sustain adoption of the practice in the future.

Although the two crops are sown together at the same time, the haricot bean reached the harvest stage within three months, and maize was harvested two months later. This staggered harvesting in itself is advantageous for farmers since it can contribute to filling of the food gap months. The average yield obtained from pre-scaling of intercropped maize and bean for all woredas was 64.2 qts maize and 18.0 qts haricot bean, a total of 82.2 qts per hectare. This yield is about twice the amount that is obtained from the common farmers’ practice.

The story of Jemal Dardegba is one good example that shows properly managed intercropping practice of maize and bean has the potential to significantly improve food and nutritional security in the mid highlands.

Jemal Dardegba is a 45 year-old farmer in Doboenseno kebele of Silte woreda, and is responsible for 7 family members. Jemal said, “I was given inputs (seed of maize and haricot bean) and trained by BENEFIT-REALISE experts how to implement intercropping on my 0.125 hectare of land. To maximize yield benefits I applied 12.5kg NPS (100 kg/ha) and 25kg Urea (200kg per/ha) fertilizers, as per the recommendations. Between the periods of planting to harvesting, I took very good care of my crops sometimes assisted by the kebele extension agent.  At harvest, I obtained 13.5 qt of maize and 4 qt of haricot bean from 0.125 ha. I used a popular hybrid maize variety named Shone on a plot that is adjacent to the maize bean intercropping. We compared the yield from the two fields and the maize yield in intercropping was 20% more than the sole cropped Shone variety, even without including the yield of haricot bean.

The yield I got from maize as well as haricot beans is very high. I have never harvested even half of this amount from this small plot of land. I plan to use half of the produce for home consumption and sell the rest. The income I get from the sale of maize will be used to buy a small water pump for irrigation purposes. Using irrigation water, I can produce vegetables 2-3 times a year mainly for market, but also for home consumption.

Now, I have acquired knowledge and skills to effectively handle maize-bean intercropping practice and maximize yield from my small plot of land, I can improve food availability and income of my family. I have learnt that the solutions to our problems are within our reach, but we don’t see them until somebody shows it to us. We should open our minds to learn new agricultural technologies and we should work hard to get out of poverty. I am grateful for this opportunity that showed me how to harvest more from my small plot and improve the livelihoods of my family in general”. 

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