Intercropping in China offers both environmental, economic benefits

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An international science group found that a new strategy being rolled out in China could double farmers' incomes while gaining environmental benefits from the land.

The study published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that intercropping in China's Hainan Province insured farmers against the risk of a single-crop's harvest failing or losing market value.

Researchers from Stanford University, McGill University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that rubber farmers who did intercropping, or cultivating other valuable plants in the understory of a main crop, maintained the same production levels as monoculture plantations while significantly increasing soil retention, flood mitigation and nutrient retention.

This study illustrated how regions can leverage natural resources to support economic growth without sacrificing ecosystem health or human well-being, according to the researchers,

Farmers who took environmental concerns into accounts doubled their incomes and reduced reliance on a single harvest while also gaining environmental benefits from the land, according to the study.

In the past two decades, expanding rubber plantations in Hainan caused loss of natural forest and its vital benefits like soil retention and flood mitigation. The intensive monocropping practices increased sediment runoff, according to the study.

The challenges that Hainan rubber plantation farmers face in terms of relying on single crops are magnified at a global scale, where monocultures, such as soy, beef and palm oil, drive the vast majority of the global food market.

The group said the approach could help farmers worldwide protect both the environment and their livelihoods.

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