J. Appl. Environ. Biol. Sci., 1(11)482-486, 2011
© 2011, TextRoad Publication
Journal of Applied Environmental
and Biological Sciences
Sayed Roholla Mousavi, Department of Agriculture, Payame Noor Universtiy, PO BOX 19395-3697,
, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A General Overview on Intercropping and Its Advantages in
Sayed Roholla Mousavi1*; Hamdollah Eskandari 2
1, 2 Department of Agriculture, Payame Noor Universtiy, PO BOX 19395-3697, Tehran, Iran
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.
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
Mousavi and Eskandari, 2011
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
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
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
J. Appl. Environ. Biol. Sci., 1(11)482-486, 2011
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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