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Relay intercropping of sweet potato with legumes

Harvest More, Worry Less with Sweet Potato-Legume Relay Intercropping

Relay intercropping of sweet potato with legumes is a transformative agricultural practice. By planting these crops together, farmers can significantly boost yields, improve resource efficiency, and reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizers, ultimately enhancing food security and economic stability. This approach not only ensures a more balanced diet for subsistence farmers but also mitigates the risk of crop failure due to factors like drought or pests. It's a versatile solution suitable for various regions in Sub-Saharan Africa, making efficient use of limited land and labor resources while bolstering farming communities' resilience to adverse weather conditions.


This technology is TAAT1 validated.


Scaling readiness: idea maturity 8/9; level of use 8/9


Open source / open access


Introducing relay intercropping of sweet potato with legumes, this innovative agricultural approach presents several challenges:

  • Crop Selection and Compatibility: Selecting the appropriate variety of sweet potato and type of legume that are well-suited to the local conditions can be challenging, and the compatibility between different crop species needs careful consideration.
  • Management Complexity: Managing the timing of planting and growth stages for two different crops in close proximity can be complex and requires careful planning and monitoring.
  • Labor Intensity: Intercropping may demand more labor input, particularly during planting, maintenance, and harvesting, which can be a burden for resource-constrained farming communities.
  • Knowledge and Training: Farmers may require training and knowledge on the intricacies of intercropping to ensure its successful implementation.
  • Weed Control: Effective weed management can be more challenging in intercropped fields compared to monoculture crops.
  • Disease and Pest Control: While intercropping can help reduce some pest-related issues, it may also introduce new disease and pest management challenges.
  • Market Demand: The market may not always favor intercropped produce, and finding suitable markets for these mixed crops can be an obstacle.
  • Infrastructure and Storage: Adequate infrastructure and storage facilities for intercropped crops can be lacking in some regions, leading to post-harvest losses.
  • Initial Investment: Farmers may require initial investments in resources such as hermetic bags, which could be a barrier for those with limited capital.
  • Scaling and Adoption: Widespread adoption and scaling of this technique may face challenges, particularly in areas with traditional farming practices.


The relay intercropping of sweet potato with legumes offers several key benefits for farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa:

  • Increased Yields and Total Harvests: This method optimizes land and resource use, resulting in higher yields and overall harvests compared to monocrop cultivation.
  • Resource Efficiency: By intercropping, farmers make better use of land, nutrients, and water resources, leading to improved crop productivity.
  • Pest and Disease Reduction: Intercropping helps reduce damage by pests and diseases, enhancing crop health and reducing the need for chemical interventions.
  • Improved Soil Nitrogen: The presence of legumes increases soil nitrogen, promoting better sweet potato tuber production and reducing the reliance on nitrogen fertilizers.
  • Nutrition and Food Security: Intercropping provides a more nutritional and balanced diet for subsistence farmers, contributing to food security in the region.
  • Risk Mitigation: The practice reduces the risk of a hunger season in the event of crop failure due to factors like drought or pest attacks.
  • Efficient Resource Use: Intercropping maximizes the efficiency of labor, fertilizer, and irrigation inputs, ensuring greater returns for farmers.
  • Environmental Benefits: It helps to reduce weed infestation, soil erosion, and run-off, while also enhancing water and light use efficiency.
  • Crop Resilience: Crop diversification through intercropping strengthens the resilience of farming communities to unfavorable weather conditions.
  • Adaptability: The technology is suitable for various regions in Sub-Saharan Africa and can be tailored to local conditions and preferences, offering flexibility to farmers.

Key points to design your business plan

This technology is beneficial for end users (farmers, aggregators):

Utilizing relay intercropping of sweet potato with legumes offers a sustainable approach to farming, fostering increased crop yield, environmental resilience, and economic viability. To effectively implement this technology:

  • Evaluate your farm's compatibility for mixed cultivation, considering factors like soil type and climate, and choose suitable sweet potato and legume varieties accordingly.
  • Source high-quality seeds for both sweet potato and legumes to ensure optimal growth and yield potential.
  • Obtain mineral fertilizers and legume inoculants if needed to support soil fertility and nitrogen fixation.

For enhanced optimization, consider associating with Orange-fleshed sweet potato (Bio-fortified, Drought and virus tolerant), Raised beds for sweet potato production and weed management.

Foster collaborations with agricultural development organizations, fertilizer suppliers, and agricultural service providers to access resources, technical support, and distribution networks for successful implementation and adoption of the technology.


Positive or neutral impact

Adults 18 and over
Positive high
The poor
Positive medium
Under 18
Positive medium
Positive medium

Positive or neutral impact

Climate adaptability
It adapts really well
Adaptability for farmers
It helps a lot
It helps them grow and thrive
Carbon footprint
It reduces emissions a little
It makes a big difference
Soil quality
It makes the soil healthier and more fertile
Water usage
It uses the same amount of water

Countries with a green colour
Tested & adopted
Countries with a bright green colour
Countries with a yellow colour
Egypt Equatorial Guinea Ethiopia Algeria Angola Benin Botswana Burundi Burkina Faso Democratic Republic of the Congo Djibouti Côte d’Ivoire Eritrea Gabon Gambia Ghana Guinea Guinea-Bissau Cameroon Kenya Libya Liberia Madagascar Mali Malawi Morocco Mauritania Mozambique Namibia Niger Nigeria Republic of the Congo Rwanda Zambia Senegal Sierra Leone Zimbabwe Somalia South Sudan Sudan South Africa Eswatini Tanzania Togo Tunisia Chad Uganda Western Sahara Central African Republic Lesotho
Countries where the technology has been tested and adopted
Country Tested Adopted
Kenya Tested Adopted
Mozambique Tested Adopted
Nigeria Tested Adopted
Tanzania Tested Adopted

This technology can be used in the colored agro-ecological zones. Any zones shown in white are not suitable for this technology.

Agro-ecological zones where this technology can be used
AEZ Subtropic - warm Subtropic - cool Tropic - warm Tropic - cool

Source: HarvestChoice/IFPRI 2009

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that are applicable to this technology.

Sustainable Development Goal 2: zero hunger
Goal 2: zero hunger
Sustainable Development Goal 3: good health and well-being
Goal 3: good health and well-being
Sustainable Development Goal 1: no poverty
Goal 1: no poverty
Sustainable Development Goal 13: climate action
Goal 13: climate action

The relay intercropping of sweet potato with legumes involves the following steps:

1. Planting on Ridges: Start by planting sweet potatoes on raised ridges, leaving space between the rows for other crops.

2. Layout Options: Choose a suitable layout for intercropping, which can include alternating rows of sweet potatoes and legumes, planting them in strips of 2-3 rows, or scattering them randomly within the field.

3. Planting Density: Adjust the spacing of sweet potatoes based on the type and size of the legume being intercropped. For larger legumes like common beans, soybeans, or peas, sweet potato spacing may need to be modified.

4. Simultaneous or Relay Planting: Decide whether to plant both crops simultaneously or in a relay fashion, aligning their growth and harvest according to local preferences and conditions.

5. Inoculation: Inoculate legume crops with a suitable strain of nitrogen-fixing microorganisms to enhance their nitrogen-fixing capabilities, which benefits the sweet potato crop.

Last updated on 22 May 2024