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Sustainable Coconut Intercrops: A Solace to the Farmers

Dr. Nupur Srivastava February 06, 2017

Intercropping is growing two or more crops in the same piece of land simultaneously which is also widely practiced by farmers, especially in the tropics. It is an advanced agro-technique and is considered to be an effective and potential mean of increasing crop production per unit area and time, particularly for farmers with small holdings (Ginigaddara et al. 2016). The main concept of intercropping is to increase productivity and reliability of production. Moreover, intercropping gives a greater stability of yield over monocropping (Pathick and Malla 1979). Besides, it ensures greater resource use efficiency (Reddy and Willey 1981). Growing of intercrops in coconut lands produces more food and agricultural products, ensuring food security of the people in rural and urban areas. At the same time, the practice generates jobs and livelihood, enhancing farm incomes and the purchasing power of people, thus alleviating poverty in farming communities (Magat 2004). Moreover, successful farmers serve as inspiration and enterprise leaders in their communities, eventually treating coconut farming in an agribusiness way to create wealth and more capital resources. Mono-cropping coconuts provides very low incomes for upland farmers even with an optimum planting density. However, there is a large area of land beneath the canopy of coconut plantations available for the farmer to use. Weeds growing beneath the palms compete for moisture and nutrients and decrease yields. Diversifying the farming system by intercropping cash crops, such as cacao, coffee, banana, pineapple etc. and changing to multi-storied cropping systems, can generate much higher returns, lessening the burden of the coconut farmer by giving alternative sources of income.

Intercrops may be selected based on the climatic requirement of the intercrop, irrigation facilities and soil type. The canopy size, age and spacing of the coconut are also to be considered. Market suitability should be taken into consideration before selecting an intercrop. One general rule in intercropping is to arrange to rows of intercrop in a way that these receive maximum sunlight throughout the day. Intercrops must be selected so as not to compete with sunlight, water and nutrient. Tree, root canopy must carefully be calculated so as not to cover other intercrop...

For example, Cacao, a popular, stable and marketable long-term beverage crop is widely planted under and between stands of coconut trees.To be a compatible and productive intercrop, cacao tree is best planted not closer than 2 meters from the base of coconut trees, at 3 m between hills and 3 m between rows. Furthermore, where there is limited land for cacao monocropping, the inter-spaces of coconut lands (with 8-15 meters of spacing of coconut palms) are amenable for several rows of cacao crop. Also important,the bio-physical environmental conditions, soil-wise, sunlight-wise and micro-climate variation within the 70-80% space between coconut trees in a farm has been known to be highly suitable for a coconut-cacao ecosystem (Figure 1).

Figure 1. A farm layout of coconut-cocoa cropping model under square (left) and triangular (right) planting system of coconut 8-10 m.


Very important: The details of the spacing, alignment, soil coditions, amount of fertilizers and various conditions of coconut intercropping can be found at Coconut Intercropping Technical Reports.

Figure 2. Schematic representation of horizontal root distribution of a multiple intercropping system with coconut (Nelliat et al. 1974) 

There are five ways of intercropping:

1. Mixed intercropping – simultaneous growing of two or more crop species in an irregular arrangement, i.e. without a well-defined planting pattern.

2. Row intercropping – simultaneous growing of two or more crop species in a well-defined row arrangement.

3. Strip intercropping – simultaneous growing of two or more crop species in a strip wide enough to allow independent cultivation, but at the same time, sufficiently narrow to induce crop interactions.

4. Relay intercropping – planting one or two crops within an established cropping pattern wherein the final stage of the first crop coincides with the initial development of the other crops.

5. Multi-storey cropping – coconut + black pepper + cacao + pineapple are planted so that each crop produces canopies at different heights.

Best crops for coconut intecropping are tuber crops, fruit crops, rhizomes, cereals, pulses and vegetables: 

a) Pepper vines on palm basins can grow and yield more. 

b) Cocoa could be grown as a perennial secondary crop. 

c) Areca palms could be intercropped. 

d) Banana and/or tapioca could be planted as an annual crop. 

e) similarly colocasia, amorphophallus, yams  could be grown. 

f) if there is still space and sunlight vegetables like cow pea, amaranthus red could be grown, and 

g) in some plantations they intercrop orchids too.

Some advantages and disadvantages of intercropping coconuts:



a) Increased and diversified farm income.

b) Reduced dependence upon coconut products with unstable market prices.

c) Improved growth and yields of coconut palms and ease in finding the fallen nuts  due to management of intercrop through weed control, use of fertilizers, etc.

d) Intercropped plants such as bananas and pineapples provide income in the short-term, as it takes young palms six or seven years to produce economic yields.

e) Better use of good quality land located close to settlements.

f) Canopy lowers air temperatures by 4–6°C lower and gives higher air relative humidity. These reduce evaporation from the soil and lower crop transpiration ­­­­­­­­rates maintaining higher level of soil water availability for intercrops.



 a) Competition between intercrops and coconut, for water or plant nutrients.

b) Intercrops may incur losses to farmer if planted where light is insufficient.

c) Intercrops may harbour diseases or attract pests harmful to coconuts.

d) Fertilisers needed for intercropping may not be affordable.

e) Tillage for intercrops may damage shallow-rooted palms reducing copra yields.

f) The growth habit of some intercrops may cause difficulty in harvesting coconuts.

g) Intercropping demands a higher level of skill from the farmer.


There would be a need for the development of an efficient extension service in order to make coconut intercropping system more productive, economical, adoptable and successful. The agronomic requirements of individual crops when they are grown as intercrops need to be standardized. The proper management and operation of the intercropping farming methods would require a contribution by the people and the government funds. This method of agriculture will help to maximize land productivity in a natural and sustainable way.

Let us stand and contribute together in enhancing a village!

References1. Ginigaddara G.A.S.,  Fernando A.P.S. and  Wijethunga P.M.A.P.K. (2016) Technical feasibility of coconut (Cocos nucifera) cashew (Anacardium occidentale) intercropping system in Puttalam district, Sri Lanka. Int. J. Ad. Sci. Res.2. Pathick D. C. and  Malla M. L. Study on the performance of crop legume under monoculture and intercrop combination. Sixth Annual Maize Development Workshop, 23 May 1979, Nepal3. Reddy M.S and  Willey R.W. (1981) Growth and resource use studies in an intercrop of pearl millet/groundnut. Field Crops Research,4. pp. 13-24. ISSN 0378-4290.4. Magat S.S. (2004) Growing of Intercrops in coconut lands to generate more food and agricultutral products, jobs and enhancing farm income. Coconut Intercropping Primer. Published by PCA-Diliman, Quezon City.Dec.2004. 7p.5. Nelliat E.V., Bavappa K.V., Nair P.V.R. (1974) Multi-storied cropping, a new dimension inmultiple cropping for coconut plantations. World Crops 26(6), 262–266.