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Investigating alley and companion crops in agroforestry in the new alluvial plains of India

A.A. Khara and Pranab Chattopadhyay (

Tree-crop compatibility helps determine a successful agroforestry system. Prior to establishing agroforestry farms, it is important to understand the possible effects of the agronomical, physiological and ecological interactions of the selected trees and alley crops, including their implications on the management practices and the socioeconomic acceptability of the whole system.

Several medicinal and aromatic crops were tried as alley and companion crops to 26 different tree species in the new alluvial plains of West Bengal, India. The trees were planted in July 1990 in five rows, with 20 types of trees in each row. Productivity of the system was assessed based on the different management practices (pruning, pollarding, coppicing, etc.) used on the trees and the alley and companion crops.

Alley crops

Some of the alley crops found to be compatible with the different tree species were as follows:

Associated crops

Among the associated crops found to be compatible with the different tree species were the following:


Careful selection of trees, alley and companion crops and management practices such as pollarding and coppicing are important considerations to verify tree-crop compatibility for the success of agroforestry systems. Pruning branches and roots, pollarding and coppicing at the appropriate time were found to increase the productivity of the alley crops.

Aggressive vines like black pepper and dioscorea need to be regularly pruned to facilitate tree growth.

Findings showed that the leaf structure of casuarinas allowed effective infiltration of sunlight and provided better PAR to promote the growth of the alley crops, except that of ginger. The fast-growing tree, Chukrasia tabularis, was found to inhibit the growth of coffee as it competed with moisture intake. Pruning of branches before and after the rainy season was found to help provide more PAR to the crops grown in both seasons.

Crops that were found to be suitable in agroforestry systems were tuber crops and vines like Vanilla planifolia, Piper longum, Piper nigrum and Dioscorea alata.

The yield of majority of the crops was found to be lower in the agroforestry system (Khara et al., 2004) than those in the monocropping system in open field conditions. Nevertheless, the income obtained from the trees, the generation of fodder, fuelwood, timber, fruits, medicines, dye and other products in the agroforestry system not only provided diversified products but also increased income. In agroforestry, farmers have the choice of trees and crops that can be combined to obtain optimum yield and maximize benefits in a sustainable manner. (The authors can be contacted at Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya, W.B., India).

References: Khara, A.; P. Chattopadhyay; B. Bandyopadhyaya; Srikanta Das and H. Sen (2001). Ecofriendly farming in the plains of W. B. - a decade study. Proc. National Symp. On Biodiversity vis-à-vis Research exploitation: an introspection 152 pp; 23-24 April, 2001; Port Blair, India.

Khara, A.; B. Bandyopadhyaya; P. Chattopadhyay; Srikanta Das and Saon Bandyopadhyay (2004). Proc. 1st World Congress on Agroforestry, Orlando, USA. 27 June to 2nd July, 2004.

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