Tropical farmers have always managed and exploited the shady environment under trees called the understory. There are many valuable cash and subsistence crops that thrive in the shady climate under trees. When cultivated in combination with tree or forest crops, understory crops enable farmers and foresters to diversify and increase their yields while reducing labor and making more efficient use of land.
The understory is a unique environment, involving more than just shade. The shade trees provide brings about a whole complex of environmental changes, affecting not just available light but also air temperature, humidity, soil temperature, soil moisture content, wind movement, and more. These factors impact plants, and the effect can be very beneficial to a wide array of crops.