A General Overview on Intercropping and Its Advantages in Sustainable Agriculture

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Abstract
Agricultural sector as important economic activities in various communities requires coherent planning in order to achieve development and confront with crises. Sustainable agriculture is more efficient in use of resources such as soil and water, and is in balance with the environment conditions. Conventional farming and monocropping systems In addition to depletion the natural resource, is caused environmental pollution. Intercropping can be defined as a multiple cropping system that two or more crops planted in a field during a growing season. Intercropping is a ways to increase diversity in an agricultural ecosystem. Ecological balance, more utilization of resources, increases the quantity and quality of products and reduction damage by pests, diseases and weeds will increases with use of intercropping systems. Row-intercropping, mixed- intercropping, strip-intercropping and relayintercropping are most important types of intercropping. Crops yield increases with intercropping due to higher growth rate, reduction of weeds, pests and diseases and more effective use of resources. Pest and disease damage in intercropping is less than pure cropping, due to pest or pathogen attract by the second crop species, Also weeds will be control, when crops in intercropping system have a complementary effect together. Soil fertility increases by using plants of leguminosae family in intercropping, due to the increasing amount of biological nitrogen fixation.
J. Appl. Environ. Biol. Sci., 1(11)482-486, 2011
© 2011, TextRoad Publication
ISSN: 2090-4215
Journal of Applied Environmental
and Biological Sciences
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*
Correspondence Author:
Sayed Roholla Mousavi, Department of Agriculture, Payame Noor Universtiy, PO BOX 19395-3697,
Tehran, Iran
, Email: rr_mousavi@yahoo.com
A General Overview on Intercropping and Its Advantages in
Sustainable Agriculture
Sayed Roholla Mousavi1*; Hamdollah Eskandari 2
1, 2 Department of Agriculture, Payame Noor Universtiy, PO BOX 19395-3697, Tehran, Iran
ABSTRACT
Agricultural sector as important economic activities in various communities requires coherent planning
in order to achieve development and confront with crises. Sustainable agriculture is more efficient in
use of resources such as soil and water, and is in balance with the environment conditions.
Conventional farming and monocropping systems In addition to depletion the natural resource, is
caused environmental pollution. Intercropping can be defined as a multiple cropping system that two
or more crops planted in a field during a growing season. Intercropping is a ways to increase diversity
in an agricultural ecosystem. Ecological balance, more utilization of resources, increases the quantity
and quality of products and reduction damage by pests, diseases and weeds will increases with use of
intercropping systems. Row-intercropping, mixed- intercropping, strip-intercropping and relay-
intercropping are most important types of intercropping. Crops yield increases with intercropping due
to higher growth rate, reduction of weeds, pests and diseases and more effective use of resources. Pest
and disease damage in intercropping is less than pure cropping, due to pest or pathogen attract by the
second crop species, Also weeds will be control, when crops in intercropping system have a
complementary effect together. Soil fertility increases by using plants of leguminosae family in
intercropping, due to the increasing amount of biological nitrogen fixation.
Keywords: Agriculture, intercrop, monocropping, sustainable.
INTRODUCTION
Agricultural to concept of ways and methods of the operation of water resources, soil and energy in order to
provide food and clothing needs of human, constantly throughout history has been the foundation of economic,
social, political and cultural development in over the world. One of the main needs of each dynamic activity is
planning within the general objectives on it activity; agricultural sector also as one of the most important economic
activities in various communities requires coherent planning in order to achieve development and confront with
crises. Sustainable agriculture is a type of agriculture that is more efficient in use of resources, for the benefit of
human, and is in balance with the environment. In other words, sustainable agriculture must be ecologically
appropriate, economically justified and socially desirable. Objectives of sustainable agriculture have a closely
associated with its definitions; objectives of the successful sustainable agriculture program are the following:
provide food security along with increased quality and quantity, with considering the needs of future generations;
conservation of water, soil and natural resources; conservation of energy resources inside and outside the farm;
maintain and improving farmers profitability; maintain the vitality of rural communities; conservation of
biodiversity (Eskandari, 2012a; Earles, 2005; Gruhn et al., 2000).
In conventional farming and monocropping systems, although high yield per unit area is been able to provide
the nutritional needs of growing populations in some areas, but these systems requires direct and indirect to
abundant costs and energy that arise from fossil fuels. In terms of ecology and environment, monocropping has been
caused a series of serious problems. Human by excessive use of resources such as water, soil, forests, pastures and
natural resources not only put them at risk of extinction, but also with the creation of pollution caused by industrial
activities, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, threatens the earth (Reganold, 1992). If farming activities be conducted
based on ecological principles, in addition to preventing the destruction of natural ecosystems, the result is stable
condition (Mazaheri et al., 2006). Also agricultural systems must provide needs of people today and future
generations; therefore it seems that is essential achieving to sustainable agriculture. One of the key strategies in
sustainable agriculture is restoration diversity to agricultural ecosystems, and its effective management.
Intercropping is a ways to increase diversity in an agricultural ecosystem. Intercropping as an example of sustainable
agricultural systems following objectives such as: ecological balance, more utilization of resources, increasing the
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quantity and quality and reduce yield damage to pests, diseases and weeds. Success of intercrops in comparison with
a pure cropping can be determined by a series of agronomic operations that interactions between the species will be
affected by them. These operations are including ultimate density, planting date, resources availability and
intercropping models (Mazaheri et al., 2006; Gliessman, 1997; Hatfield and Karlen, 1993).
Perspectives and define Intercropping
Although there is no recorded history for intercropping and multiple cropping, however, considering the
available evidence planting crops as a combined has a long history. Intercropping is as a multiple cropping system,
in which two or more crops species planted simultaneously in a field during a growing season. Of course this does
not mean that in the intercropping, plants can be planting at a time together, but is the purpose that two or more
crops are together in one place, during their growing season or at least in a timeframe. Therefore is possible that the
plants are different in terms of planting time, and a plant is planted after the first plant (Mazaheri et al., 2006; Ofori
and Stern, 1987).
Types of intercropping
Compared with pure cropping in which one species is planted, intercropping is consisting planting of two or more
crops. Intercropping can be included: annual plants with annual plants intercrop; annual plants with perennial plants
intercrop; and perennial plants with perennial plants intercrop (Eskandari et al., 2009a; Ghanbari and Lee, 2003)
The intercropping is divided into the following four groups (Vandermeer, 1992; Ofori and Stern, 1987):
1- Row-intercropping: Growing two or more crops simultaneously where one or more crops are planted in
regular rows, and crop or other crops may be grown simultaneously in row or randomly with the first
crop.
2- Mixed- intercropping: Growing two or more crops simultaneously with no distinct row arrangement.
This type of can be suitable for grass-legume intercropping in pastures.
3- Strip-intercropping: Growing two or more crops simultaneously in different strips wide enough to
permit independent cultivation but narrow enough for the crops to interact ergonomically.
4- Relay- intercropping: Growing two or more crops simultaneously during part of the life cycle of each.
A second crop is planted after the first crop has reached its reproductive stage but before it is ready for
harvest.
Advantages of intercropping
There are many reports concerning the positive effects and also superiority of intercrop than the pure
cropping. Most important advantages of intercropping are the following:
1- Increasing production
One of the main reasons for the use of intercropping around the world is produced more than a pure cropping
of same land amount (Caballero and Goicoechea, 1995). Ghanbari and Lee, (2002) reported that dry matter
production in wheat and beans intercrops had been more than their pure cropping. Also Martin and Snaydon, (1982)
in their study reported that grain and dry matter yield in bean and barley intercrops was more than their pure
cropping. Odhiambo and Ariga, (2001) with maize and beans intercrops in different ratios found that production
increased due to reduced competition between species compared competition within species. Wiley, (1990)
considers intercropping as an economic method for higher production with lower levels of external inputs. This
increasing use efficiency is important, especially for small-scale farmers and also in areas where growing season is
short (Altieri, 1995). Production more in intercropping can be attributed to the higher growth rate, reduction of
weeds, reducing the pests and diseases and more effective use of resources due to differences in resource
consumption (Eskandari, 2012b; Eskandari et al., 2009b;Watiki et al., 1993; Willey, 1990; Willey, 1985). In
addition, if there are "complementary effects" between the components of intercropping, production increases due to
reducing the competition between them (Mahapatra, 2011; Zhang and Li, 2003; Willey, 1979).
2- Greater use of environmental resources
Advantages of intercropping in the crop production in comparison with pure cropping are due to the
interaction between components in intercrops and the difference in competition for the use of environmental
resources (Mahapatra, 2011; Valdez and Fransen, 1986). If the intercrops components have a difference together in
use of environmental resources, so that are complementary in use of this resources, thus use of the resources is more
effective than a pure cropping, and the result increased yield (Jensen, 1996). In terms of competitive this means that,
intercrops components are not competition for same nich (ecological nest) due to differences morphological and
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physiological, and competition between species is less than competition within species (Vandermeer, 1992). Francis
and Decoteau, (1993) reported that sweet corn yield increase by planted with pea as intercrops due to better use of
environmental resources. It also noted that competition between species in maize and peas’ intercrop was less than
the competition within species. Wahua, (1983) found that nutrient uptake by intercropped maize and cow pea as one
of the environmental resources, was higher than pure cropping, and intercrops components were complementary in
the use of resources (Eskandari and Kazemi, 2011; Eskandari et al., 2009b).
3- Reduction of pests, diseases and weeds damage
One important advantage of intercropping is its ability to reduce pest and disease damage. In general
strategies involved in reducing pest infestation and damage in intercropping can be divided into three groups: First:
delimiter crop hypothesis: this way that second species, breaks down the ability of a pest in attack to its host, and is
used more in proprietary pests. Second: trap crop hypothesis: means that second species, attracted towards their, pest
or pathogen that normally does damage to the main species, and is used more in general pests and pathogenic agents.
Third natural enemies’ hypothesis: this way that predators and parasites are more attracted in intercropping, than the
monocropping, and thereby diminishes parasitized and prey (Danso et al., 1987). Although intercropping does not
always reduce pest or pathogen, but most reports have pointed to reduced populations of pests and diseases in the
intercropping (Fujita et al., 1992). In a review by Francis, (1989) on intercropping, in 53% of the experiments
intercropping reduced the pest, and in 18% increased the pest than the pure cropping. Increasing pests can be due to
several reasons, such as the second crop is a host for pests in intercropping, or increasing the shade in canopy,
provides favorable conditions for pests and pathogens activity. In addition plant residues can be as a source for
pathogens inoculated (Anil et al., 1998; Watiki et al., 1993). More species diversity in agricultural ecosystems can
limit the plant pathogenic spread. Intercropping systems increases biodiversity like the natural ecosystems. This
increase in diversity reduces pest damage and diseases (Anil et al., 1998).
It is well known that the weeds interfere with crops causing serious impacts through either competition (for
light, water, nutrients and space) or allelopathy. Intercropping patterns are more effective than monocropping in
suppression of weeds, but their effectiveness varies greatly (Girjesh and Patil, 1991). Intercrops may demonstrate
weed control advantages over pure cropping in two ways. First, greater crop yield and less weed growth may be
achieved if intercrops are more effective than pure cropping in usurping resources from weeds or suppressing weed
growth through allelopathy. Alternatively, intercrops may provide yield advantages without suppressing weed
growth below levels observed in component pure cropping if intercrops use resources that are not exploitable by
weeds or convert resources to harvestable material more efficiently than pure cropping. Because of the difficulty of
monitoring the use of multiple resources by intercrop/weed mixtures throughout the growing season, identification
of specific mechanisms of weed suppression and yield enhancement in intercrop systems has so far proven elusive
(Matt and Dyck, 1993). In monocropping systems rarely, all available natural source such as moisture, nutrients and
light are used by plant, consequently released nich are captured by the weeds. If used plants in the intercropping, in
the use of resources are complementary, in this case intercropping system with more and effective use of ecological
resources, and filling the empty nich, leads to weed control are better and effective than the monocropping system
(Saudy and El-Metwally, 2009; Altieri, 1995). Soria et al., (1975) with corn- cassava and beans- cassava intercrops
announced that intercropping is effective in weed control.
4- Stability and uniformity Yield
For farmers who have limited sources, income and stability yield of agricultural systems is very important.
When several crops can be grown together, fail to produce a product, could be compensated by other crop, and
thereby reduces the risk. Risk of agronomy failure in multi cropping systems is lower than pure cropping systems. It
may be an appropriate growth condition for a species and inappropriate for other species (Eskandari et al., 2009a).
5- Improve soil fertility and increase in nitrogen
Conservation of soil fertility in intercropping is a form of rotation that each season is done on land.
Rhizobium bacteria are able to have a symbiotic relationship with plants of leguminosae family, and thereby can
fixation of atmospheric nitrogen into available nitrogen for plants uptake. And the result nitrogen (as an essential
element for soil fertility and plant growth) is added to the soil. There are several reports indicating that increasing
the nitrogen content in non-legume plants, due to the intercrops of these plants with plants of leguminosae family
(Eskandari et al., 2009a; Anil et al., 1998; Fujita et al., 1992).
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  • ... Current means for controlling parasitic weeds are focusing on reducing the soil seed bank, preventing seed set and inhibiting seed movement from infested to non-infested areas. Intercropping is regarded as an ecological method to manage pests, diseases and weeds via natural competitive principles that allow for more efficient resource utilization[8].The aim of the present work was to evaluate the intercropping efficiency of sorghum with groundnut, bacterial strains and inorganic fertilizers on Striga incidence and sorghum performance. ...
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  • ... Sustainable agriculture is a type of agriculture that is aiming to increase the efficiency of resources utilization, provide needs of people today and for future generations, restore diversity to agricultural ecosystems and accomplish balance with the environment through its effective management ( Mousavi & Eskandari, 2011). Intercropping is a way to increase diversity in the agricultural ecosystem, which is the combination between two or more crops in the same field and growing season ( Fathi, 2014). ...
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  • ... The use of this practice is of great importance for having a positive effect and efficiency in relation to monocultures of vegetable crops. The most important advantages of this crop association are the production of greater yield on a given piece of land by making use of the available growth resources more efficiently; improving soil fertility through biological nitrogen fixation with the use of legumes or green manure; increasing soil conservation through greater ground cover; reducing the incidence of pests, diseases and weed damage and improving the product quality, besides offering stability and yield uniformity ( Mousavi & Eskandari, 2011). The success of a polyculture depends on its management in relation to production factors such as fertilizer amount, population density proportion and the choice of crops involved in the system. ...
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  • ... Intercropping patterns generally categorized into four types: Mixed intercropping, row intercropping, strip intercropping and relay intercropping ( Vandermeer, 1989). Mixed intercrop is the growing of two or more crops simultaneously in the same field without following any distinct row arrangement or grown together in the same row without any distinct sequence; row intercropping is the growing of two or more crops simultaneously where at least of the crops is planted in rows, where the other crops may be grown in rows or randomly with the first one; strip intercropping is the methods of "growing two or more crops simultaneously in different strips wide enough to permit independent cultivation but narrow enough for the crops to interact agronomically"; relay intercropping is the growing of two or more crops simultaneously during part of the life cycle of each where the second crop is planted when the first crop is at its reproductive stage but before the maturity ( Mousavi & Eskandari, 2011;Vandermeer, 1989). Mixed intercropping is mostly followed by the indigenous people in slash and burn or in fellow agriculture, or when the crops are grown with the purpose of animal feed. ...
    Thesis
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    Current monoculture food production facing a lot of challenges. The adverse effect of climate change will shift the current agricultural production towards critical threshold level in many parts of the world. Increased global mean temperature, changes in rainfall pattern, pest and disease infestation and other localized extreme events significantly decreases the yield level and increases the yield variability year to year in current monocropping systems, throwing more than 1 billion people in food insecurity. Now-a-days intercropping have been considering as a viable alternatives for increasing the agricultural productivity and reducing the yield variability over the years. No quantitative synthesis have been made on intercropping yield stability. The aim of this study is to analyze the intercropping ability to enhance yield stability and ensure food security compare with monocropping systems. This study consists of two intertwined section: meta-analysis and field experiment. Meta-analysis on intercropping literature was conducted to quantify the yield stability of intercrops, focusing on the effect of intercrop components, experimental patterns, intercropping design and climatic zone. The three years field experiment was used to analyze the effect of three different nitrogen levels (0, 40 and 80 kg N ha-1) and five different cropping systems (IC1= 80:20; IC2=50:50; IC3= 20:80 of barley & pea respectively; barley sole crop; pea sole crop) on productivity, land use efficiency and yield stability. In meta-analysis only coefficient of variation (CV)but for field experiment CV and coefficient of regression have been used for assessing theyield stability. The meta-analysis results showed that cereal-legume intercropping systemssignificantly reduces the yield variability of their respective sole crops. Intercropping inreplacement design have significantly lowest CV value. In tropical region cereal production showshigher yield variability than intercrop and legume sole crop. However, in tropical regionintercropping reduces 49% yield variability of cereal sole crops, although higher yield stabilitywas observed in sub-tropical region for all cropping systems. Moreover the analysis showed thata higher yield level provides higher yield stability in production systems. Results of the fieldexperiment showed that N fertilizer has no strong effect on the intercrop yield. N fertilizersignificantly increases barley grain and biomass yield but reduces the pea yield. Moreover Nfertilizer significantly reduces LER values indicating that available soil N decreases thecomplementarity among the intercrop component crops and increases the interspecificcompetition. No significant difference was observed among the CV of cereal sole crop andintercrops except legume sole crop. The regression analysis showed that intercropping with higherpea proportion have higher yield stability in both grain and biomass yield. Finally all of theanalysis showed that cereal-legume intercropping have a substantial impact on higher yield andyield stability and could improve the food security and livelihood. Overall following thisagroecological practice in cropping systems could keep contribution to move the currentagroecosystems one step towards sustainability.
  • ... One solution is to introduce or convert single monoculture into poly or intercropping farming system. In a general sense, intercropping is a planting system that uses a multiple cropping system with at least two or more crops planted in the same field/plot during a growing season[5]. In this regard, intercropping is a potential alternative for a sustainable way for the farmers to overcome the abovementioned problem by reducing risks of product price fluctuation, pathogens or insect attacks[6]. ...
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    Publisher Summary This chapter describes the biological efficiencies in multiple-cropping systems. Many multiple-cropping systems persist on farms on which resources are limited and the level of new technology is low. Intensive cropping systems, often with mixtures of species, have reached high yield levels using pesticides, improved cultivars, and other high-input technology in countries such as China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Thailand. Multiple cropping of cereals, grain legumes, and root crops forms the basis of farming systems for many subsistence farmers in the developing world. The most intensive use of time and space occurs with the simultaneous or near-simultaneous plantings of two or more crops. Detailed growth analysis and measurement of resource use are being used to broaden the knowledge base on competition and productivity. Double cropping, which includes two crops in the field in a sequential pattern, provides opportunity for much greater temporal interception of total radiation through the year compared to any single crop, unless that one crop has an extremely long growth cycle. Pest management in multiple-cropping systems is also elaborated.
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    An experiment was carried out in 2010 to investigate the effect of intercropping on forage quality and quantity. Maize sole cropped and its intercropping with cowpea and mungbean in replacement and additive design were compared in RCBD in three replications. The results showed that intercropping systems had a significant effect on the dry matter yield, crude protein (CP) yield, neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and acid detergent fiber (ADF) concentration. The CP yield and dry matter of produced forage increased by intercropping as compared with the maize monoculture. Intercropping of legumes with maize significantly reduced NDF and ADF content, resulting increased forage digestibility. In all intercropping treatments, land equivalent ratios (LER) were well above 1 indicating yield advantages for intercropping. It can be concluded that maize-legumes intercrops could substantially increase forage quantity and quality and decrease requirements for protein supplements as compared with the maize monocultures. KEY WORDS: Acid detergent fiber (ADF), crude protein, forage production, multiple cropping, neutral detergent fiber (NDF).
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    Cereals grown for forage are increasing in importance in the rations of ruminants in the UK and have the potential to supply high proportions of energy-rich forage in their diets. However, such diets usually require some degree of protein supplementation. Crop mixtures, generally referred to as intercrops, have the potential to boost the forage protein content of diets as well as having a number of agronomic benefits. In this paper, the growth and utilization of annual intercrops is reviewed with particular reference, where feasible, to temperate regions. General agronomic and feeding issues associated with cereal intercrops are outlined together with the practicalities of field-scale management of intercrops in highly mechanized systems. A number of cereal-based intercrop combinations are also considered, concentrating specifically on their value for forage production. The future potential for different combinations is discussed and research recommendations made.
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    In the Mediterranean area, most annual legumes, such as common vetch (Vicia sativa L.) that have a scrambling habit, are sown with oat (Avena sativa L.) to improve growing conditions and forage harvesting. Although some studies have examined the effects of varying seeding ratios, the optimum seeding rates for those combinations are not well-defined. The objective of this study was to compare the yields from mixed stands of vetch (principal species) and oat (secondary species) obtained when several seeding rates of vetch were combined with various seeding ratios of the two species. A field study was conducted at two locations near Madrid in the 1981–1982 and 1982–1983 growing seasons. Both species were planted as monocrops and in mixtures. Ratios of the number of vetch to oat seed were 100:0; 90:10; 80:20; 70:30 and 60:40. Within each mixture, seeding rates of vetch were 60, 80, 100 and 120 kg ha−1. The oat monocrop was seeded at 140 kg ha−1. Plants were harvested at the pod-setting stage of vetch. Relative yield total (RYT) calculated as the sum of the relative dry matter yields of both species was used as the criterion for mixed stand advantage.Mixtures produced 34% more dry matter than the monocrop of vetch, but 57% less than the oat monocrop. Dry matter yields of mixtures were not affected by seeding ratio or seeding rate of vetch but proportions of vetch dry matter decreased linearly as the percentage of oat seed in the mixture increased. The net effect of oat in the mixture was a linear increase in competition as oat density increased. Relative yield totals of mixtures with 90:10 or 80:20 ratios of vetch:oat seed exceeded unity.
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    Nitrogen-fixing legumes are commonly intercropped with various non-N-fixing crops in the tropics. Little information is available on the quantitative estimation of the effect of competition by a non-legume on the N fixing ability of the associated legume in an intercrop. Our primary objectives were therefore to assess the effects of different densities of intercropped barley (Hordeum vulgare. L.) on the amount or proportion of N fixed by fababeans (Vicia faba, var. minor L.) and also to examine whether fixed N was transferred from the legume to barley. The proportion of N fixed by fababeans, and N uptake from soil and fertilizer by fababeans and barley were distinguished by the use of 15N-labelled urea. Compared to the sole crop, the dry matter yield and total N in the intercropped fababeans were reduced and consequently there was a slight reduction in the quantity of N fixed in the presence of barley. However. the proportion of the N in fababeans that was derived from fixation was significantly increased in the intercropped system. Although the sole crop fababeans absorbed more soil N than sole barley, this was reversed in the intercrop. Increasing the competition for soil N through increased plant population densities of either fababeans in the sole crop or barley in the intercrop resulted in substantial increases in the proportion of N in fababeans derived from fixation. This density effect was much greater with intercropped barley than that induced through increased fababeans density. There was no evidence that fixed N was transferred from fababeans to barley in this study.
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    A field experiment was carried out in Ramhormoz, Iran during the 2008-2009 growing season to investigate the effects of different planting pattern of intercropping on environmental resource consumption and weed biomass. A randomized complete block design (RCBD) with three replications was employed to compare the treatments. Treatments included maize sole crop (M), cow pea sole crop (C), within row intercropping (I1), row intercropping (I2) and mix cropping (I3). The density of intercropping was according to replacement design (one maize replaced by three cow pea plants). The results showed that environmental resource consumption was significantly (P≤0.05) affected by cropping system, where PAR interception, moisture and nutrients uptake were higher in intercropping systems compared to sole crop systems. Regarding to weed control, intercrops were more effective than sole crops and it was related to lower availability of environmental resources for weeds in intercropping systems.
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    Cereals are high important in feeding ruminant animals for their high dry matter production and low cost. However, cereals forage is poor in protein content which shows their low quality and nutritive value. Regarding to high feed costs of protein supplementations, legumes can be used in livestock nutrition for their high protein content and, thus, providing cost saving. Since legumes have low dry matter yield, acceptable forage yield and quality can obtained from intercropping of cereals and legumes compared with their sole crops. In this paper, forage quality indicators and different factors affecting forage quality are discussed. Forage production and quality of different cereals-legumes intercropping are also reviewed, where; different legumes had different effect on forage quality when intercropped with specific cereal. Regarding to forage quality and quantity, different cereals also led to different production of forage. A number of factors which must be noticified in selecting cereal-legume intercropping compositions, especially for forage production, were considered.
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    An experiment was carried out in 2003 to investigate the effect of intercropping on light interception, nutrient uptake and forage quality of cow pea. A randomized complete block design (RCB) with three replications was employed to compare the treatments, including cow pea sole crop (Cp), corn sole crop (C), alternate-row intercropping (M1), within-row intercropping (M2) and mixed intercropping (M3). The intercrop composition was based on replacement design, where one corn was replaced by three cow pea plants. The results indicated that PAR (photosyntheticaly active radiation) interception and nutrient uptake were improved by intercropping. Cow pea was more competitive than corn in absorbing divalent cations (Ca and Mg) for its high root cation exchange capacity. However, corn was more competitive than cow pea for phosphorus and potassium. Forage quality of cow pea in terms of crude protein was decreased in intercropping compared to its sole crop. It was related to reduction of biological nitrogen fixation induced by low PAR and phosphorus availability for cow pea in intercropping.
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    The challenge for agriculture over the coming decades will be to meet the world's increasing demand for food in a sustainable way. Declining soil fertility and mismanagement of plant nutrients have made this task more difficult. In this brief, Peter Gruhn, Francesco Goletti, and Montague Yudelman point out that as long as agriculture remains a soil-based industry, major increases in productivity are unlikely to be attained without ensuring that plants have an adequate and balanced supply of nutrients. They call for an Integrated Nutrient Management approach to the management of plant nutrients for maintaining and enhancing soil, where both natural and man-made sources of plant nutrients are used. The key components of this approach are described; the roles and responsibilities of various actors, including farmers and institutions, are delineated; and recommendations for improving the management of plant nutrients and soil fertility are presented.