Economic performance and sustainability of a novel intercropping system on the north China plain

C. Huang, Q. Liu, N.B.M. Heerink, T.J. Stomph, B. Li, R. Liu, H. Zhang, C. Wang, X. Li, C. Zhang*, W. van der Werf, F. Zhang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Double cropping of wheat and maize is common on the North China Plain, but it provides limited income to rural households due to the small farm sizes in the region. Local farmers in Quzhou County have therefore innovated their production system by integration of watermelon as a companion cash crop into the system. We examine the economic performance and sustainability of this novel intercropping system using crop yield data from 2010 to 2012 and farm household survey data collected in 2012. Our results show that the gross margin of the intercropping system exceeded that of the double cropping system by more than 50% in 2012. Labor use in the intercropping system was more than three times that in double cropping. The lower returns per labor hour in intercropping, however, exceeded the average off-farm wage in the region by a significant margin. Nutrient surpluses and irrigation water use are significant larger under the intercropping system. We conclude that the novel wheat-maize/watermelon intercropping system contributes to rural poverty alleviation and household-level food security, by raising farm incomes and generating more employment, but needs further improvement to enhance its sustainability.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0135518
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • reducing environmental risk
  • nutrient-use efficiency
  • food security
  • crop productivity
  • n management
  • resource use
  • agriculture
  • competition
  • fertilizer
  • diversity


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