Hedgerows/alley cropping to control soil erosion, Jamaica


Jamaican small farmers implement hedgerow/alley cropping to mitigate the impacts of hydro-meteorological hazards. The hedgerows/alley cropping system is an agroforestry practice, where fast-growing nitrogen fixing trees are planted in rows, and food or cash crops are planted in the space (‘alley’) between the rows. This practice helps to control soil erosion, increases the water-holding capacity of the soil, reduces deforestation, generally improves soil fertility and productivity and diversifies agricultural production. There has been a high acceptance level of this technology in Southern Trelawny, Jamaica where it has been implemented, due to the ease of implementation, its effectiveness in controlling soil erosion and the low financial cost.



The use of the hedgerow/alley system has been advocated by conservationists who have found it to be effective in minimizing soil erosion by reducing surface runoff velocities and prolonging infiltration rates. Hedgerows are also a good source of organic matter, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and other micro-nutrients. The practice of hedgerows/alley cropping is currently being promoted in Southern Trelawny, Jamaica. The Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA), an NGO which has been technically supporting it, has reported a high acceptance level of this technology, due to the ease of implementation, its effectiveness in controlling soil erosion and the low financial cost.

The objectives of the technology are:

  • to minimize soil erosion;
  • to reduce rainfall run-off velocity;
  • to prolong the infiltration rate;
  • to provide organic matter to improve soil structure, and a source of phosphorous, potassium and other micro-nutrients;
  • to fixate nitrogen where leguminous plants are used;
  • to diversify agricultural production;
  • to increase carbon sequestration through the planting of trees and shrubs;
  • to reduce deforestation through the provision of yam sticks.

Implementation of the Technology

On gentle slopes hedgerows are established about 2-6 meters apart. On steeper slopes, the hedgerows should be about 2 meters apart along the contour of the land. Within the rows, the distance between the trees varies, but may be as close as 5-10 centimeters on steep slopes.

At the seedling stage, temporary stakes are placed into the ground close to the young hedges and farm trash is placed on the up-slope side of the stakes to form barriers that control soil erosion. The stakes hold the barriers until the plants are mature enough to hold the barriers by themselves. As the hedges grow, they are periodically pruned to prevent the shading of crops in the alleys, and the pruning debris are used to further build up the trash barrier or as mulch on the farmed area between the hedgerows. In southern Trelawny, hedgerows are also being managed to produce yam sticks by leaving individual trees to grow at intervals of 2 meters. When the trees mature, the sturdy stems are cut and used as yam sticks. A variety of leguminous species can be used for nitrogen fixation. These include Leucaena leucocophala, Tephrosia candida, Desmodium rensonii, Flemingia macrophylla, Alnus nepalensis, and Calliandra calothyrsus.

The hedgerow/alley system of vegetative soil conservation is currently being promoted in Southern Trelawney, in Jamaica, part of the Cockpit Country buffer zone and one of the foremost regions in Jamaica for commercial yam production. The Calliandra calothyrsus, the hedgerow plant that is being promoted, does not occupy much farm space and its vertical root system penetrates deep into the soil where it provides support for the upper soil horizons and does not interfere with the root systems of cultivated crops. This allows farmers to plant food crops in close proximity to the Calliandra plants. Further advantages of the species are that the Calliandra tree grows well on a wide variety of soil types, with its rooting system stabilizing banks and ridges, its leaves can be used as animal fodder and enhances soil fertility through nitrogen fixation. Given the high level of interest expressed in this technology by small farmers, similar acceptance levels are likely in yam growing communities elsewhere, especially where soil loss from steep slopes is a problem. A key factor in ensuring similar level of success elsewhere lies in the promotion and management of the technology.

Monitoring of the Demonstration

Although there is no quantitative assessment of the impact of the project, qualitative assessment indicates positive physical and socio-economic impacts (Spence, 1999).

Physical impacts

Accumulation of soil behind the barriers is a good indicator of the extent of reduced soil loss. Observation made of treated plots towards the end of the project indicated significant levels of soil accumulation behind the hedgerows while soil loss continued unabated on untreated plots. One farmer whose plot was used as a demonstration site explained that before the treatment of his land, soil-wash from his farm posed a hazard to traffic on the road below, but this is no longer the case since the treatment of his land. The hedgerow/alley technique was regarded by farmers as a vast improvement on their traditional use of contour drains, because although these drains reduced water velocity on the slopes they nevertheless channeled away substantial quantities of soil. The hedgerow/alley technique also resulted in improved water infiltration on slopes, which can enhance ground water discharge.

Socio-economic impacts

Farmers who utilized the hedgerow/alley technique reported that when daily labour costs for maintenance of hedgerows are taken into account, the overall costs of establishing and maintaining the new technique was substantially less than those associated with contour trenches as a soil conservation measure. In this regard the production costs for yam farmers who adopted the technique were reduced.

At the community level, reduced inconveniences related to road blockage owing to erosion from farms and the related cost of clearing roads was yet another positive effect of the hedgerow/alley technique. In addition, reduced turbidity of streams has implications for reduction in the cost of water treatment for communities. At the time of the final evaluation of the project, 393 farmers had been exposed to detailed information regarding the use of the technique. This served to improve the level of environmental awareness among farmers in southern Trelawny and as such the technique holds great promise for the promotion of sustainable use of land resources by farmers.

Relevance of the Proposed FAO Intervention

At the end of South Trelawny Soil Conservation Project a large number of non targeted farmers in southern Trelawny expressed interest and desires to adopt the hedgerow/alley technique, but were unable to benefit due to unavailability of STEA’s resources to continue expansion of the intervention when the project ended. A stakeholder meeting held in May 2007 between the FAO Resident Representative in Jamaica, the National Consultant for the FAO project, The Director of STEA and community representatives from southern Trelawny, indicated the desire of farmers to continue adaptation of the hedgerow/alley technique. In this regard it is proposed that the funds available for fine-tuning and promoting good practice(s) identified in the first phase of the project should be allocated to the revival of the hedgerow/alley technique of vegetative soil conservation in southern Trelawny for the following reasons:

  • Past evaluation of the technique indicates that it not only has the potential to reduce soil-loss associated with intense rainfall, but also include a wide range of environmental benefits.
  • Farmers in southern Trelawny are extremely receptive to the innovation, but currently lack the resources for the implementation. Only a small proportion of the farmers in the area have benefited from the previous initiative and thus outreach and impact of the proposed FAO intervention is large.

Given the range of environmental and social benefits that can be derived from the intervention, there are good prospects for collaboration with other development partners.

Being resilience one of the key components of FAO´s strategic obtectives, this intervention with hedge rows is in line with the type of measures that enhance the resilience of the agro system against natural hazards, in this case against soil losses derived from intense rainfall. The conservationof soil properties and better water infiltration are factors that can help increasing yield and thus, farmer´s food security and income.

References and Further Reading:

TCP/RLA/3101 Assistance to Improve Local Agricultural Emergency Preparedness in Caribbean Countries Highly Prone to Hydro-Meteorological Disasters – Jamaica, January 2007 FAO Regional Workshop on Disaster Risk Management – Final Report, April 2007. ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/ai147e/ai147e00.pdf

Barker, D. (1998) Yam farmers on the Forest Edge of Cockpit Country: Aspects of Resource use and Sustainability, in Resource Sustainability and Caribbean Development, Duncan F.M. McGregor, David Barker and Sally Lloyd Evans (eds). University of the West Indies Press, Jamaica.

Evans, P. (1994) Agroforestry Development in Yam-growing areas of Central Jamaica. FAO, Rome.

Ross C. Gutteridge and H. Max Shelton (eds.), Forage Tree Legumes in Tropical Agriculture, The Tropical Grassland Society of Australia, Queensland, 1998

Spence, B. (1999) GEF Cockpit Country Conservation Project: Land Management Report

Spence B., (1995) Domestic Food Production and Small Farming in Jamaica

Spence B. et al (2005) Experiences and Behaviour of Jamaican Residents in Relation to Hurricane Ivan.

Report submitted to the Japan International Corporation Agency, 2005.

Thomas-Hope E. and B. Spence (2002) Promoting Agro-biodiversity under Difficulties: The Jamaica PLEC Experience. PLEC News and Views, #19, March 2002.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services, Alley Cropping Conservation Practice Job Sheet 311, April 2003 (revised edition)

USDA Forest Service, Agroforestry Notes, AFNI 2: Alley Cropping, January 1999

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services, Alley Cropping: Practice Introduction, practice code 311




For more information please contact Stephan Baas at Stephan.Baas@fao.org




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FAO Strategic Objective 5 – Resilience, in FAO

Sustainable development cannot be achieved without resilient livelihoods. People around the world are increasingly exposed to natural hazards and crises – from drought, floods, earthquakes and disease epidemics to conflict, market shocks and complex, protracted crises. Worldwide, 75 percent of poor and food insecure people rely on agriculture and natural resources for their living. They are usually hardest hit by disasters.   

The recurrence of disasters and crises undermines countries’ efforts to eradicate hunger and malnutrition and to achieve sustainable development. People who rely on farming, livestock, forests or fishing for their food and income – around one-third of the world’s population – are often the most vulnerable and affected. Climate change, in particular extreme weather-related shocks, is exacerbating the situation. SP5 assists countries to increase the resilience of households, communities and institutions to more effectively prevent and cope with threats and disasters that impact agriculture, food security and nutrition. It focuses across all agricultural subsectors on . 

  • natural hazards and related disasters such as floods, droughts and earthquakes 
  • food chain threats caused by plant pests and diseases and animal diseases, as well as food safety threats such as radio nuclear contamination or avian flu
  • conflicts and protracted crises.

SP5 helps countries and communities to prevent and cope with these different areas of risks and shocks through normative guidance, technical standards and their implementation in the field. FAO resilience work feeds into global processes such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the One Health approach for food chain crises and the Committee on World Food Security's Agenda for Action for addressing food insecurity in protracted crises. SP5 country support like the implementation of DRR good practices at country and local levels is delivered in close collaboration with and based on technical advice from FAO technical divisions, including AGA, AGP, CBC, FIA and FOA.


Previous, Climate, Energy and Tenure Division (NRC) in FAO

The Climate Impact, Adaptation and Environmental Sustainability team of the Climate, Energy and Tenure Division (NRC) develops the knowledge base on the impact of climate, climate change and climate variability on agriculture, and facilitates the use of this information and knowledge through field projects. The team also supports capacity development at national level by supporting governments to integrate disaster risk reduction in the agriculture sector as well as identifying, testing and validating in cooperation with various partners climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction good practice options to build resilience of all actors in agriculture to the impact of climate change and extreme weather events.

Organic Agriculture work in FAO:

The coordination of FAO’s organic agriculture activities is housed in the Climate, Energy and Tenure Division. Since 1999, the Organic Agriculture programme works along three main areas:

  • Strengthening the ability to exchange information and to set-up organic agriculture networks, in order to ensure that producers, operators and governments have access to the reliable and quality information needed for informed decision-making, for directing research and extension, and for making investments;
  • Developing and disseminating knowledge and tools that support organic plant protection, soil and nutrient management, animal husbandry and post-harvest operations, especially in developing countries and market-marginalized areas;
  • Assisting governments in designing the types of legal and policy frameworks that provide support to farmers by facilitating the marketing and trade of certified organic products that meet international inspection and certification standards.

For queries related to climate change and disaster risk reductions, you can contact: DRR-for-FNS@fao.org or climate-change@fao.org

For queries on organic agriculture, you can contact: Nadia Scialabba. Nadia.Scialabba@fao.org