Intercropping—A Low Input Agricultural Strategy for Food and Environmental Security
Palai, Jnana Bharati
Duvvada, Sarath Kumar
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Intensive agriculture is based on the use of high-energy inputs and quality planting materials with assured irrigation, but it has failed to assure agricultural sustainability because of creation of ecological imbalance and degradation of natural resources. On the other hand, intercropping systems, also known as mixed cropping or polyculture, a traditional farming practice with diversified crop cultivation, uses comparatively low inputs and improves the quality of the agro-ecosystem. Intensification of crops can be done spatially and temporally by the adoption of the intercropping system targeting future need. Intercropping ensures multiple benefits like enhancement of yield, environmental security, production sustainability and greater ecosystem services. In intercropping, two or more crop species are grown concurrently as they coexist for a significant part of the crop cycle and interact among themselves and agro-ecosystems. Legumes as component crops in the intercropping system play versatile roles like biological N fixation and soil quality improvement, additional yield output including protein yield, and creation of functional diversity. But growing two or more crops together requires additional care and management for the creation of less competition among the crop species and efficient utilization of natural resources. Research evidence showed beneficial impacts of a properly managed intercropping system in terms of resource utilization and combined yield of crops grown with low-input use. The review highlights the principles and management of an intercropping system and its benefits and usefulness as a low-input agriculture for food and environmental security.