Skip to content Skip to cookie consent
Skip to content


Alley cropping

Alley cropping is a technique that is very useful for improving poor soils, providing fodder for livestock and protecting the soil from heavy rainfall

2007 Available in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish

Photo: David Crooks/Tearfund

From: Agriculture and climate change – Footsteps 70

How farmers across the world are adapting to climate change

Alley cropping is a technique that is very useful for improving poor soils, providing fodder for livestock and protecting the soil from heavy rainfall.

Alley cropping is a simple way of combining tree-growing with crops. Rows of suitable trees are planted about 5 metres apart, usually by direct seeding into the soil at the beginning of the rainy season. In between the rows of trees, crops or vegetables are grown as usual. On sloping ground, the rows must be planted along the contour – across the slope. Alley cropping may also give some protection during irregular rainfall as the rows of trees help to trap rainfall in the soil.

The tree seeds are planted close together in the rows so the young trees form a hedge. If possible, try to mix several different species to form a hedge. Once the trees reach shoulder height (1–2 metres high) they are cut right back to just 20–30 cm in height. The leaves can be left on the ground as a mulch to rot down and add nutrients to the soil. Alternatively, they can be collected and used to provide animal fodder. The remaining stumps quickly grow back and the cutting can be repeated for many years.

Alley cropping adds plant nutrients and improves soil structure. It protects soil from heavy rains. It is low-cost and easy to do, although it does require a lot of labour to cut back trees. Without regular cutting, they will grow tall, develop thick trunks and compete with the crops.

Alley cropping should not be used in very dry areas. The trees will be more difficult to establish. Once established, the rows of trees will use what little water is available in the soil and make it more difficult for crops to grow.

Alley cropping requires a good supply of seed from the right kind of trees. It is important that only legume trees are planted, as their roots add plant nutrients to the soil. In many areas legume trees are already growing and they often produce plentiful supplies of seed. Legume trees produce seeds in pods and usually have small, divided leaves. They also tend to have deep roots that do not compete much with crops for water. If possible, get local advice on the best species to plant.

Recommended species of tree 

Acacia albida acacia, kad, haraz, winter thorn
Calliandra calothyrsus calliandra, cabello de angel, barba de gato, barbillo, barbe jolote, clavellino
Cassia siamea cassia, sélé, amarillo, kassod
Gliricidia sepium gliricid, cacahuananche, madre de cacao, madriado
Leuceana leucocephala leuceana, guage lamtoro, ipil ipil, subabul
Moringa oleifera moringa, arzantiga, mbum
Sesbania grandiflora sesbania, agati, bagphal, pan hatiya, tuwi, sesban, murunga, zapaton blanco

Photo: ICRAF ©

Photo: ICRAF ©

Similarly Tagged Content

Share this resource

If you found this resource useful, please share it with others so they can benefit too.

Subscribe to Footsteps magazine

A free digital and print magazine for community development workers. Covering a diverse range of topics, it is published three times a year.

Sign up now - Subscribe to Footsteps magazine

Cookie preferences

Your privacy and peace of mind are important to us. We are committed to keeping your data safe. We only collect data from people for specific purposes and once that purpose has finished, we won’t hold on to the data.

For further information, including a full list of individual cookies, please see our privacy policy.

  • These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems.

  • These cookies allow us to measure and improve the performance of our site. All information these cookies collect is anonymous.

  • These allow for a more personalised experience. For example, they can remember the region you are in, as well as your accessibility settings.

  • These cookies help us to make our adverts personalised to you and allow us to measure the effectiveness of our campaigns.