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Inter-cropping helps biodiversity conservation

KUALA LUMPUR: Besides generating income for farmers, the inter-cropping of vegetables and herbs between rows of newly-planted oil palms, contributes to biodiversity conservation.

“Inter-cropping cash crops with oil palms and rubber can diversify food nutrition for humans and enhance soil fertility for crop health,” said Crops For the Future (CFF) research centre theme leader, Professor Soh Aik Chin, on the sidelines of an inter-cropping seminar, here, recently. 

There is little awareness that current human nutrition depends on a very limited number of crops. He also noted while some literature exists on companion planting, there is scarce data on using the functional diversity of plants in an inter-cropping system. 

“We want to find out the ideal inter-cropping formula that would improve yields of the main crop and contribute to biodiversity in the plantation system at the same time,” Soh said.

CFF is an international body dedicated to neglected and underutilised crops. It is a joint venture hosted in Malaysia by the University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus, and the Malaysian government.

“Research literature have shown that biodiversity in a natural ecosystem increases total plant productivity,” Walker said. “The combined species use the resources available to them in a more efficient way by avoiding intra-species competition. We want to pick vegetables and herbs that are suitable.” 

“We want to choose crops that won’t compete against each other. In the interest of nutrition security, we want to find out combinations that will  bring about a multitude of symbiotic benefits,” she said. 

As of now, legumes are extensively planted at oil palm estates for a dual role of preventing soil erosion and as nitrogen fixers. Flowering plants such as Turnera subulata, Cassia  cobanensis and Antigonon leptopus are also planted to play host to beneficial pollination insects. 

The breeding of barn owls are also encouraged at the estates as they are natural predators of rats and snakes.

Ong said research on various inter-cropping combinations are needed to see how plants and trees interact and to determine what happens in the soil.

This sustainable agriculture initiative is based on the balanced needs of people, planet and profits. “We’re looking into the most sustainable cropping system  to help ease poverty by enhancing food security through more optimum land management and soil conservation,” he said.

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