Trials by farmers in the northern green highlands of FRB’s Laos-Xieng Khouang program have shown that planting beans in between rows of corn plants is improving the soil and increasing yields.
An increasing population, not enough land, and deteriorating soil fertility have all contributed to local farmers’ worry, “How long will my family be able to survive off this land?” They’ve got clear evidence that beans replace the nitrogen used by corn. By intercropping beans and corn and increasing the overall organic matter in the soil, they’re improving their depleted soils and seeing higher corn yields. Last year, six farmers agreed to try planting beans in their corn fields. One of them, Mr. Ya, planted jack beans, black cowpeas, and red rice beans. The beans and corn grew poorly and produced little seed. Soil tests showed that his soil was acidic, with a high aluminum content – not good for the plants!
This year, Mr. Ya was one of five farmers who were willing to try again. He planted his corn in the very same field. After a few weeks he could see the difference between this field and another which had been planted in corn alone. The corn in the previous year’s intercropped field had taken advantage of the nitrogen from the beans and was much taller and greener. The results were visible from the road, and his neighbors were impressed. There will be more farmers practicing intercropping this year!
Some Xieng Khouang farmers will soon go on a study tour to learn more from villages in Thailand that have been using a similar intercropping system, with good results, for thirty years.
Sustainable upland farming methods like these are bringing hope to program participants. Maintaining soil fertility through organic agricultural practices can allow for annual harvests without fallow periods. The farmers see that they’ll be able to plant their standard crops of corn and rice without having to clear more forest for new fields.
This program encompasses 29 communities, 1408 households and 9390 individuals