Associated crops at the service of the agricultural and food systems of tomorrow

Associated crops at the service of the agricultural and food systems of tomorrow

A resource-intensive activity, food production today faces multiple challenges. The ancestral technique of intercropping consists in cultivating together different species and varieties of cereals and legumes (or other mixed species) at the same time on the same surface.

Scientifically recognized as one of the agroecological solutions, it has been largely abandoned in Europe since the advent of fertilizers in favor of monospecific crops”analyzes Eric Justes, agronomy researcher at CIRAD and project coordinator. Diversifying via associated crops is considered costly and restrictive because all the players in the supply chains are organized around standardized processes, in order to produce, transform and market these monospecific crops”.

To remove the barriers to the adoption of intercrops, a large-scale action research has just been launched through the IntercropValuES project. At the heart of this four-year project, coordinated by CIRAD and funded to the tune of 7.4 million euros by the Horizon Europe program of the European Union, various innovations will be tested on three continents (Europe, Africa and China) .

Innovating together via 13 case studies

How to manage service plants, which provide nitrogen and help to control weeds, in the cultivation of sugar cane on Reunion Island? How does combining maize with cowpeas, groundnuts or cassava improve the productivity of food crops in Mozambique? How can Cooperatives for the Use of Agricultural Equipment (CUMA) adapt machines at a lower cost to sow, harvest and separate harvested grains efficiently from associated crops?

So many issues addressed among the 13 case studies provided for by the project in 10 countries, in Germany, Spain, France (3 case studies in: Occitanie, Pays de la Loire, Réunion), Denmark, Italy, Mozambique, United Kingdom , Serbia, Sweden and Switzerland.

These studies will bring together academic actors, groups of farmers and companies around shared objectives and an ambitious participatory approach of co-innovation. By covering a wide range of situations (short and long supply chains, organic and conventional agriculture, etc.), the ultimate aim is to develop production methods and technologies for processing and adding value to marketable products.

“The project brings together 27 of the most competent partners in the world on the subject of associated crops. It will help us better understand and model how these cultures work in order to offer credible, efficient and resilient solutions, from farm to fork.”, explains Eric Justes. CIRAD will carry out work in mainland France (agri-food processing and agronomic modelling), Reunion and Mozambique (case study) and Senegal and Zimbabwe (genetics, agronomy and soil sciences).

A great potential for dissemination

The results of the project will then be widely disseminated, adapting messages and channels to different users (farmers, agricultural advisers, processing companies, machinery, distributors, citizens, scientists, political authorities).

“A first level of sharing of results will be that of the scientific community. At the local level, dissemination to all actors in agricultural development will take place via demonstrations on model agricultural plots, training or even specific events. Finally, through advocacy work with national and European decision-makers, we hope to help redirect regulations and subsidies in favor of intercropping.”says the scientist.

IntercropValuES Partners:

  • Austria: Universitaet Fuer Bodenkultur Wien
  • Germany: Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universitat Bonn, Universität Kassel
  • Belgium: Catholic University of Louvain, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, and International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements European Union regional group Brussels
  • China: China Agricultural University
  • France: Cirad, Ercane (Réunion), National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, National Institute of Life and Environmental Sciences and Industries, and National Federation of CUMAs, AgroParisTech (affiliate partner at INRAE), National School of Agricultural Education (partner affiliated with INRAE)
  • Denmark: Roskilde Universitet, Business Lolland-Falster
  • Spain: Iniciativas Innovadoras SAL, Instituto Navarro de Tecnologias e Infraestructuras Agroalimentarias Sa
  • Greece: Aristotelio Panepistimio Thessalonikis
  • Italy: Consiglio per la Ricerca in Agricoltura e L’analisi dell’economia Agraria, Rete Semi Rurali
  • Mozambique: University Eduardo Mondlane
  • Netherlands: Wageningen University
  • Sweden: Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet
  • Switzerland: Forschungsinstitut Fur Biologischen Landbau Stiftung
  • Serbia: Poljoprivredni Fakultet Novi Sad, Univerzitet U Novom Sadu