Intercropping and agroforestry in China – Current state and trends

Yu Hong, Nico Heerink*, Shuqin Jin, Paul Berentsen, Lizhen Zhang, Wopke van der Werf

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)


Intercropping and agroforestry are mixed plant species cultivation systems that can potentially reduce pressure on land and water resources by generating higher crop yields and by increasing resource use efficiencies through exploitation of complementarities between species. While it is frequently claimed that mixed cultivation systems remain popular in Chinese agriculture, there are also reports that it is in decline. Little quantitative evidence is available on the prevalence of intercropping and agroforestry. Therefore, we conducted a village-level survey in 68 villages across six provinces in China in 2014 to document the prevalence of these mixed species cultivation systems in 2009 and 2014. We found that intercropping was practiced on approximately three percent of the arable land in the surveyed villages, while agroforestry was practiced on approximately one percent of the arable land and one percent of the area of plantation plus forest land. The use of both systems did not significantly change between 2009 and 2014. An explorative village-level analysis of factors associated with mixed species cultivation practices reveals a significant positive association with labour availability, and a smaller, but mostly significant, negative association with agricultural machinery power. These survey results provide the first systematically collected quantitative evidence on the current use and trend of mixed cultivation systems in China. The collected evidence indicates that these systems are currently used on a small proportion of the land, but have not declined in recent years. Intercropping continues to provide pathways for ecological intensification of agricultural food production.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-61
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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