5 Agroecological Practices Explained

Agroecological practices include; relay intercropping, biofertilizer usage, grass-based holistic management with adaptive grazing, organic mulch seeding, and biodynamic agroforestry.

This article discusses agroecological practices, as follows;





1). Relay Intercropping (as one of the Agroecological Practices)

Relay intercropping is a highly viable and effective agroecological practice which plays key roles in optimizing crop and livestock yield through various mechanisms.

The implementation of relay intercropping simply involves simultaneous cultivation of multiple types or species of agricultural crops on land, according to a predefined, alternating schedule.

One of the most obvious benefits of this is increase in resilience of the ecosystem through biodiversity.

This may be observed in form of a more active and productive energy pyramid with higher rates of bioenergy conversion and biomass production.

In farms where multiple, nutrient-intensive plants like cash crops are grown at the same time, intercropping techniques can help ensure that vital nutrients like nitrogen are continuously available [1].

Another agroecological function of intercropping is biological control.

Studies have shown that intercropping can be effective for controlling weeds [6], thereby reducing the reliance on, and use of, synthetic herbicides.

Agroecological Practices: Relay Intercropping (Credit: Oregon State University 2003 .CC BY-SA 2.0.)
Agroecological Practices: Relay Intercropping (Credit: Oregon State University 2003 .CC BY-SA 2.0.)




2). Biofertilizer Usage

Biofertilizer in agriculture refers to soil amendment that is comprised primarily of organic materials, and used to improve soil fertility. An example of biofertilizer is compost, made from organic waste that has undergone breakdown and conversion to nutrients through the process of biodegradation.

The use of biofertilizer as an agroecological practice includes its production and application for soil conservation/optimization purposes.

Types of biofertilizers include; bacterial, algal and fungal biofertilizers, which are distinguished and categorized based on microbe composition.

Biofertilizers represent a crucial element of agroecology, because they mimic the natural processes of soil replenishment that occur in forests and other ecosystems, and replace synthetic fertilizers that can have unfavorable environmental impacts.

When biofertilizer is used in place of chemical fertilizer, the biodiversity of soil microbiomes tends to increase, along with the rate and effectiveness of processes like carbon sequestration that improve soil health and productivity [5].

Biofertilizers are especially useful where the goal is to achieve long-term sustainability of agricultural production. This is often the case in agroecology.




3). Grass-based Holistic Management and Adaptive Grazing (as one of the Agroecological Practices)

Holistic Management (HM) is a livestock-centered agricultural approach that takes cognizance of ecologic factors and conditions when planning grazing, reproduction and other essential phases of livestock production.

It is an agroecological practice because it is comprised of both managerial and biological elements [4].

Adaptive grazing itself involves the implementation of selectivity when matching livestock to the geographic, climatic and biological conditions of pastoral land.

When combined with holistic management, it can be very effective for improving both environmental health and livestock productivity [7].

Holistic management with adaptive grazing mimics the conditions of grassland ecosystems, where livestock grazing patterns are predicated on ecologic adaptation.

Other sustainable agricultural practices like rotational grazing and silvopastoralism may be incorporated into this context as well.




4). Organic Mulch Seeding

Organic mulch seeding or direct mulch seeding (DSM) is simply the act of introducing seedlings directly into organic mulch, so that the mulch acts as the primary planting medium in place of soil.

The technique is effective because organic mulch comprises of biomass that can decompose to yield nutrients for plant growth.

Organic mulch also often provides sufficient anchorage and mechanical support to plant roots.

Mulch seeding is helpful in cases where there is need for effective water conservation [2], such as where soil is prone to rapid moisture loss, dryness, low fertility and desertification.

For such cases, organic mulch serves as a supplementary and protective layer that occurs between plant roots and soil particles, and optimizes productivity while suppressing weeds.

Organic mulch seeding mimics the process of natural regeneration through seedling dispersion, which is one of the factors behind plant biodiversity and resilience in natural ecosystems.




5). Biodynamic Agroforestry (as one of the Agroecological Practices)

Agroforestry is the integration of forest vegetation with crops and/or livestock, in order to establish a level of ecologic resilience, interdependence and biodiversity that is similar to that of naturally-occurring forests.

Implementing agroforestry with a biodynamic approach means that all farm inputs are organic and conserved within the agricultural ecosystem, in such a manner that limits both resource depletion and unfavorable, unnatural influences.

This is in full alignment with the principles of agroecology, and could be viewed as an innovative method of protecting and enhancing soil, water, and agricultural productivity.

Agroecological Practices: Biodynamic Agroforestry (Credit: Trees ForTheFuture 2011 .CC BY 2.0.)
Agroecological Practices: Biodynamic Agroforestry (Credit: Trees ForTheFuture 2011 .CC BY 2.0.)






Agroecological practices are;

1. Relay Intercropping

2. Biofertilizer Usage

3. Grass-based Holistic Management and Adaptive Grazing

4. Organic Mulch Seeding

5. Biodynamic Agroforestry






1). Amosse, C.; Jeuffroy, M-H.; Mary, B.; David, C. (2013). “Contribution of relay intercropping with legume cover crops on nitrogen dynamics in organic grain systems.” Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 97(1-3). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10705-013-9591-8. (Accessed 24 December 2022).

2). Duveskog, D. (2003). “Soil and Water Conservation with a focus on Water Harvesting and Soil Moisture Retention: a study guide for FFS.” FAO. Available at: https://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/1da5bd88-e626-4c6d-b5d5-88b6082762a6/. (Accessed 26 December 2022).

3). Gregory, S. (2013). “Adding mulch to vegetable plants increases yields, saves water.” Available at: https://newswire.caes.uga.edu/story/4749/mulch-veggie-plants.html. (Accessed 25 December 2022).

4). Hawkins, H.; Venter; Z. S.; Cramer, M. D. (2022). “A holistic view of Holistic Management: What do farm-scale, carbon, and social studies tell us?” Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment 323:107702. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2021.107702. (Accessed 24 December 2022).

5). Itelima, J. U.; Bang, W. J.; Oyimba, I. A.; Sila, M.; Egbere, O. J. (2018). “Bio-fertilizers as key player in enhancing soil fertility and crop productivity: A Review.” Direct Res. J. Agric. and Food Sci. Available at: https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.26765/DRJAFS.2018.4815. (Accessed 26 December 2022).

6). Leoni, F.; Lazzaro, M.; Ruggeri, M.; Carlesi, S.; Meriggi, P.; Moonen, A. C. (2022). “Relay intercropping can efficiently support weed management in cereal-based cropping systems when appropriate legume species are chosen.” Agronomy for Sustainable Development 42(4). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13593-022-00787-3. (Accessed 24 December 2022).

7). Teague, W. R.; Kreuter, U. P. (2020). “Managing Grazing to Restore Soil Health, Ecosystem Function, and Ecosystem Services.” Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems 4. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3389/fsufs.2020.534187. (Accessed 24 December 2022).

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