This is in response to the increasing pressure for farming systems in Asia to produce more without causing further harm to the environment.
“As soils deteriorate and become unable to provide the nitrogen that crops need, crops tend to look for other ways to obtain nitrogen,” explains Didier Lesueur, soil scientist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). “This is why nitrogen-fixation from the atmosphere is very important in agriculture. And the most important nitrogen-fixing agents in agricultural systems are the symbiotic – mutually beneficial – associations between crop, forage legumes, and rhizobia – the nitrogen-fixing bacteria that camp inside the root nodules of legumes.”
In addition to fixing atmospheric nitrogen (N), intercropped legumes contribute to enhancing soil carbon content through the leaves and root systems that remain in the field after harvest. When used as green manure, multipurpose legumes help in mitigation of soil erosion by providing a better soil cover. Beyond facilitating soil health, when used as forages, legumes provide high-quality livestock feed, thereby helping increase livestock production. These are some of the benefits of the integration of multipurpose legumes in farming systems. For scientists at CIAT, this is one way to sustainably diversify tropical crop-livestock systems in Asia.
“We would like for farmers to take advantage of the many benefits derived from nitrogen fixed in crop-livestock systems,” notes Sabine Douxchamps, integrated farming systems researcher at CIAT. “And we need to be able to answer a number of questions, like what are the economic benefits to a farmer, how much savings in fertilizer will it effect, and others, to encourage farmers to adopt certain farming practices.”