Intercropping is the planting of crops in alternative rows in order to increase diversity, to enable the plants to help each other, to increase ground cover and typically to increase yields. Intercropping among trees can add to these benefits, as well as conserving trees. Intercropping enables the farmer to maximize connections between elements, increasing stability, diversity and total yield of a planting.
Alley farming is an ecologically stabilizing process designed for tropical farmers to increase and sustain crop production. Rows of nutrient-rich trees form 5 meter alleys. If farmers regularly use prunings from these trees as mulch for crops grown in the alleys, the trees function as 'fertilizer bushes'. Farmers can defer fallow on fragile soils, extend and diversify cropping, and increase yields. As an innovation bundle, alley cropping supplies useful by-products: animal fodder, crop staking material, firewood, and mulch for erosion control and moisture retention.
On-farm research demonstrates that if the technical aspects of alley cropping outpace essential human components, the practice becomes dysfunctional, and the benefits farmers derive are negligible.