East African Farmers to Benefit from Intercropping Bananas and Coffee
November 3, 2011 | Andrew Burger
Smallholder farmers in Rwanda are experimenting with the intercropping of bananas and coffee in an effort to better adapt to changing climate conditions and increase their yields. According to an AFP News report, mean temperatures in Rwanda’s highlands and Africa’s Great Lakes region are forecast to rise in coming decades and threaten the fragile growing conditions necessary to insure successful harvests of coffee, Rwanda’s primary export crop.
The news report notes that the intercropping of bananas and coffee could significantly reduce the risk from warming temperatures to the country’s coffee crop. The banana trees in the system provide shade and serve to mitigate the effects of warming temperatures. Cuttings from the trees’ bark also provide farmers with a ready source of organic soil supplement for their coffee plants. The banana trees also soak up carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas.
Rwanda’s agricultural authorities, though, have traditionally promoted monoculture cropping and are taking a cautious approach to intercropping. According to the AFP news report, they are concerned that inter-cropping of coffee and bananas, if not done properly, could result in lower yields of both crops.
Nonetheless, agricultural scientists from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) say that intercropping of cash and food crops such as coffee and bananas “could be vital to the future of central Africa’s volatile Great Lakes region,” potentially playing a substantial role in addressing hunger, malnutrition and poverty.
According to the results of an IITA study conducted in Uganda’s highlands, the marginal rates of return of adding banana to mono-cropped coffee was 911% and 200% in Arabica and Robusta growing regions, respectively. The research team concluded that “coffee-banana inter-cropping is much more beneficial than banana or coffee mono-cropping.”
With mean temperature across the Central African region expected to increase by about 2 degrees Celsius over the next 30-40 years, IITA is urging Rwanda, as well as other Central African nations, to act sooner rather than later and adopt intercropping and other more sustainable farming methods and techniques.
“We have to be bold – the consequences are difficult to contemplate,” Sanginga Nteranya, IITA’s new director general told reporters in the Rwandan capital of Kigali.
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