Alley cropping is a simple technique that restores nitrogen to the top layer of soil so that farmers can use the same piece of land year after year to grow their crops.
Nitrogen-fixing trees are planted between rows of such staple crops as corn and cassava. Nitrogen is essential to plant-growth and can only be converted to ammonia – or fixed – by certain organisms. These trees have strong taproots that carry nitrogen from deep in the earth up to the topsoil. Some examples of nitrogen-fixing trees used in SHI’s programs include Inga species (specifically Inga edulis), Madre de Cacao (Gliricidia sepium), and Moringa (Moringa oleifera, stenopetala). They also can provide shade for crops like coffee and cocoa.
In the case of sun loving crops, such as corn, when the trees grow so tall that they are shading the crops, the farmer simply needs to cut them back. Each time these trees are cut back to a stump, the taproot allows the tree to grow back stronger than ever. The branches that are pruned can be used for firewood while the twigs and leaves can be left where they are to serve as natural mulch. Unlike monocultures, alley cropping allows for diversity in plant species, which results in a diversity of insect species improving pest management.
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