SMALL farmers at Lake Agege, Ghana are experimenting with intercropping Okra, cowpeas and Melons to improve soil fertility.
Ecological intercropping is a practice of growing two or more crops together. At Lake Agege Farm the Okra, Cow Peas and Melon combination is beingtrialed. There are a variety of reasons why intercropping is done, not all of these apply to Lake Agege, but they include:
- Weed infestation
- Insect infestation
- Cracking and hardening of the soil
- Rapid bush growth
- Declining soil fertility
The Okra plant provides a trellis for the cowpea plant and therefore prevents insects from damaging it. The cowpeas, in turn, are providing natural nutrition by fixing nitrogen from the air and transporting it to the roots of the Okra and the Melon.
Meanwhile, the big leaves of the Melons prevent the loamy soil from drying out and hardening. “This allows the roots to anchor themselves more quickly in the soil and reach deeper, wetter regions, so that trace elements such as potassium and phosphate, which regulate the water balance in the plant, are better unlocked for the plant,” says DIVAGRI researcher Ms Britta Christina Wolff.
Illustration Credit: DIVAGRI researcher and LAF farm member Britta Christina Wolff
Dr Springmann says that this DIVAGRI intercropping research exercise can assist the Lake Agege farmers and the community of practise from the neighbourhood to reduce input costs and farm in a healthier way. By improving the soil through the natural nitrogen fixing properties of cowpeas, they don’t need to buy expensive fertiliser anymore. In addition, avoiding pesticides is particularly important in fields near water. (The Agege lake is used to produce drinking water.)