Chapter 1: Introduction

Maize, sorghum and millets are important cereals for food and nutrition security in the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) region as a staple food and constitute major sources of dietary carbohydrate. Legumes such as groundnuts, common beans, pigeon pea and soybean are important and affordable sources of proteins and vitamins.

To meet the growing demand for foods attributed to a rapidly growing population in ESA, there is a need to increase the production of these crops. A practical approach for increasing farm productivity, to maintain healthy crops and fertile soils, and maximizing resource use efficiency would be intensification of land use through growing multiple crops simultaneously (intercropping) or in succession (rotations).

Growing cereals and legumes in the same land not only supplies dietary carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins to households but also improves soil fertility through symbiotic nitrogen fixation from the legumes which also provide quality crop residue for livestock. Besides this, these methods can improve income and livelihood of smallholder farmers in ESA. This manual describes the advantages of intercropping and rotations and provides technical details of how to implement these sustainable agricultural intensification (SAI) systems. In addition, the manual shares knowledge and experiences of farmers who adopted cereal-legume intercropping or rotations system as a part of the InnovAfrica project in Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa.

InnovAfrica has been testing intercropping/ rotations of cereals (maize, sorghum and finger millets) and legumes (common bean, groundnut, cowpea, soybean, Bambara nut and pigeonpea) in farmer fields in Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa from year 2017 to 2020 (3 growing seasons). The use of intercrops and rotations particularly in Conservation Agriculture (CA) enhances the resilience of farmers to climate change- induced risks such as dry spells and thus, crops withstand better during severe moisture stresses. Furthermore, intercropping increases crop diversification and thus reduces the risk of crop failure due to drought, excessive rainfall, pests and disease attacks. This means that the use of these SAIs in rainfed cropping systems could enable farmers to be more productive, leading to better food and nutrition security and incomes.