Banana is a key staple food and an important source of income for farmers who trade in local, national or regional markets. Small-holder farmers have discovered the benefits of growing bananas and coffee inter-cropped together in the same field. By contrast, coffee is a major cash crop for export, making significant contributions to national economies. Small-holders need to find ways to increase yields by intensifying crop management of both banana and coffee in their limited land holdings.
In a banana-coffee cropping system, the banana provides shade for coffee that is beneficial in reducing stresses caused by extreme temperatures and strong winds. Coffee trees grow well under moderate, less than 50% shade, which can help improve and stabilize coffee yield and quality. Shade helps to reduce the occurrence of overbearing dieback in coffee and also reduce yield losses caused by drought.
Bananas and coffee can grow well together, but optimizing conditions for both crops requires careful attention of the required weather conditions, nutrient parameters and their management in order to avoid excessive competition between the two crops for light, water and nutrients. Suitable parameters and their typical ranges for the two crops are in the table below.
Establishing the best conditions for both crops require careful management of the soil and crop leaf canopies. If the shade provided by banana is too dense and over 50%, coffee yields may be reduced. Conversely, the yield of bananas will be less if there are only a few banana mats and coffee may be insufficiently shaded leading to overbearing dieback, a disease condition causing damage to the coffee plants reducing their productivity during consecutive years. Robusta coffee may even compete with banana so aggressively that the banana population decreases until banana yields are insignificant.
Banana and coffee can be planted at the same time in a banana-coffee inter-crop system. Coffee can be introduced in existing banana plantations. The banana plants may need to be thinned to provide sufficient space for the coffee trees. Banana can be planted in an existing coffee plantation. The coffee trees may need to be pruned and thinned to create space for the banana plants.
In plantations, inter-cropping banana with coffee is usually more profitable and resilient than the production of either crop grown as monocrops. Banana provides the coffee with shade, reducing stress on coffee due to wide variation in temperature within the coffee leaf canopy and wind damage.
Banana also provides mulch to the cropping system and the soil cover that benefits both crops. The mulch improves root development in both banana and coffee, and improves availability of potassium (K) in the topsoil, due to the large biomass turnover. The permanent canopy and root systems of banana reduce soil losses due to erosion and surface wash by reducing the impact of rainfall on the topsoil.