Farming systems and intercropping

By R. Bourdeix, J. Ollivier  and V. Kumar

Growing of intercrops in coconut lands produces more food and agricultural products, ensuring food security of the people in rural and urban areas. At the same time, the practice generates jobs and livelihood, enhancing farm incomes and the purchasing power of people, thus alleviating poverty in farming communities (Magat 2004). Here are some advantages and disadvantages of intercropping coconuts:

  1. Increased and diversified farm income. 
  2. Reduced dependence upon coconut products with unstable market prices. 
  3. Improved growth and yields of coconut palms and ease in finding the fallen nuts due to management of intercrop through weed control, use of fertilizers, etc. 
  4. Intercropped plants such as bananas and pineapples provide income in the shortterm, as it takes young palms six or seven years to produce economic yields. 
  5. Better use of good quality land located close to settlements. 
  6. Canopy lowers air temperatures by 4–6°C lower and gives higher air relative humidity. These reduce evaporation from the soil and lower crop transpiration rates maintaining higher level of soil water availability for intercrops.

  1. Competition between intercrops and coconut, for water or plant nutrients. 
  2. Intercrops may incur losses to farmer if planted where light is insufficient. 
  3. Intercrops may harbour diseases or attract pests harmful to coconuts. 
  4. Fertilisers needed for intercropping may not be affordable. 
  5. Tillage for intercrops may damage shallow-rooted palms reducing copra yields. 
  6. The growth habit of some intercrops may cause difficulty in harvesting coconuts. 
  7. Intercropping demands a higher level of skill from the farmer.
  8. Wildfire sometimes appears to be a major disincentive to establishing forestry and agroforestry intercropping, with various reasons for lighting fires being identified. On the other hand, coconut, citrus and pineapple are considered as fire-retardant food and may provide an incentive for the community to protect planted areas by using firebreaks around the reforestation sites . 

One of the experiments conducted at the Stewart Research Center,
Madang, Papua New Guinea

Aerial view of another experiment
conducted at the Stewart Research Center,
Madang, Papua New Guinea

Intercropping Malayan Red Dwarf coconut palms
 and banana in Jamaica

Water consumption of the coconut palms

In Brazil, research conducted in Paraipaba in the State of Ceará by Miranda et al. (1998) reported a water consumption ranging from 8 to 12 liters per plant per day in the first 6 months after planting (up to 10% of the soil surface) for young dwarf coconut plants irrigated by micro sprinkler 12 to 28 liters plant-1 day-1 from 7 to 12 months (10 to 16% soil cover), from 30 to 100 liters per plant per day from 13 to 24 months of age. (16% to 36% soil cover) and from 103 to 173 liters per plant per day from 25 to 36 months (36% to 64% of soil cover). In Brazil, the crop factor (Kc) of 0.8 for adult plants has been used in calculating the amount of water to be applied in the coconut crop (Nogueira et al., 1998). The results obtained with this calculation have been satisfactory. Producers of the Sertão Paraíba apply, on average, 200 liters of water plant per plant per day to meet the high demand of water of the crop, besides to carry out phytosanitary control and suitable fertilization. With this management they are achieving an average annual productivity of 160 fruits per plant per year.

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