Mixed Cropping: A Successful Organic Strategy for Small Farmers

Curly kale

Curly kale - sukuma-wiki, a favorite greens in Kenya, is a variety of kale Wikipedia

Long before Europeans were on the scene, Africans were practicing companion, or mixed cropping (or planting), which is a highly successfully strategy for outwitting many bugs and diseases.

A mixed crop garden upcountry. Bananas = overstory, corn, beans, etc = understory

However, with the advent of Northern Hemisphere farming methods in which crops are neatly planted in rows with no intermixing, Africans were (and often still are) advised to farm in this way, growing crops in neat rows.  Mixed planting was seen as very messy by many advisors.

Manioc planted by an NGO in rows, upcountry.

Here are the major vegetable families with examples of the members of each family.  Mixed farming should intercrop members of different families – either at the same time or sequentially; companioning a legume with a non-legume is particularly advantageous:

Beans growing under banana as an overstory

Corn stocks are commonly used as stakes for climbing beans. The beans are a legume that help nurture the corn.

Vegetable families and some examples of members:

Tomato Family
Tomato, potato, pepper, eggplant, chili pepper
Onion Family
Onion, shallot leek, chive, garlic
Beet Family
Beet, swiss chard, spinach, amaranth
Cole Crop Family
Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, sukuma-wiki
Legume Family
Bean, pea, cowpea, peanut
Carrot Family
Carrot, celery, celeriac, parsley, parsnip
Cucurbit Family
Cucumber, watermelon, cantaloupe, pumpkin
Lettuce Family
Lettuce, chicory, endive

(This is a nice page from Cornell University on the Carrot Family. )

Here is the process of setting up a mixed farming field in our contract farming demonstration plot:

First, several long-growing plants are planted in rows:

Once established we add other vegetables:

The kale now has matured; tomatoes and several other vegetable varieties are intercropped with it.

AmaranthAmaranth has only a 3-week maturity cycle and so was grown with the kale.

Help from collaborating farmers to harvest and bundle the amaranth, which will go to the hotel in the morning. The kale leaves can continue to be harvested while another or several other crops are intercropped with it.

About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Africa-Central, Agriculture, companion planting, Contract-Farming, Food, Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika2, Organic Vegetable gardens, Research & Development and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Mixed Cropping: A Successful Organic Strategy for Small Farmers

  1. MechLite says:

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  6. Mitzi says:

    I have been researching suggestions for mixed cropping with tomato and found your website. Just wondering if you have more information about this tomato/amaranth/kale mixed crop – do you have the details from this demonstration plot for recommended spacing between the different varieties, planting intervals, etc? I’m putting together suggestions for women’s groups in South Sudan.


  7. MuLondon says:

    It’s strange that organic farming is now considered an “alternative”, whereas conventional is the norm. Spraying crops with herbicides and pesticides and intensive farming – how is that progress? It’s great though that more and more organic produce is coming from Africa, which will surely lessen the toxic burden on the continent. It would be great to hear what modern organic farming in Africa is like.


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