Integrating perennials with food crops could restore soil health and increase staple yields, say Jerry D. Glover, John P. Reganold and Cindy M. Cox.
Rhoda Mang’yana’s half-hectare farm in Malawi produces more maize (corn) than her extended family of seven can eat. Some of the extra crop she sells. Some she feeds to pigs and goats, which she also sells. With the money she makes, she can pay her grandchildren’s school fees and buy essentials, such as soap and salt, that she has provided for her family since her husband died 15 years ago. As well as maize, Mang’yana’s farm supplies firewood and other types of animal feed. It is also resilient, providing enough maize during good years to pull the family through leaner ones. Key to Mang’yana’s improved land is perenniation — the integration of trees and perennials (plants that live for two or more years) into fields of food crops.