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Soil Nutrients & Water Conservation for Smart Intercropping

Soil health and water conservation practices are aided by the inter-cropping of banana and coffee. Whilst the broad canopy of banana can reduce the impact of rain on the soil and therefore reduce soil losses, terraces are used to minimize soil erosion where banana-coffee systems are planted on land with slopes steeper than 15%.

KJ Staff
Soil in hand and a small plant
Soil in hand and a small plant

Soil health and water conservation practices are aided by the inter-cropping of bananas and coffee. Whilst the broad canopy of bananas can reduce the impact of rain on the soil and therefore reduce soil losses, terraces are used to minimize soil erosion where banana-coffee systems are planted on land with slopes steeper than 15%. Other soil and water conservation measures that are useful include bunds, trenches, and cut-off drains.

In addition, mulch cover from banana residues, pseudo-stems and leaves, and coffee pruning are valuable in areas with marginal annual rainfall of less than 900 mm. whereby soil moisture deficits are major limitations leading to a reduction in size and the number of banana bunches produced.

Monitoring and delivery of the required quantities of water at the right time clubbed with its optimum usage and conservation can be achieved by deploying “Smart Agro” sensor networks with actuators and dispensers. Key ambient and soil pa­rameters like humidity, temperature etc. are sensed to gather the information on the needs of plants and crops to provide the inputs and interventions.

Organic inputs and mineral fertilizers are very important for a good yield. To get the maximum benefit from fertilizers, the farmer should apply the right fertilizer at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place. All plants require an adequate supply of nutrients to grow and yield well and banana and coffee are no exception. For example, young plants require phosphorus for good root es­tablishment and growth, and mature plants require potassium for effective flowering and fruit filling.

Soil in hand
Soil in hand

Monitoring and providing nutrition in a timely manner as the banana plant grows and takes up nutrients from soil is important for the health of the plant and quality of the produce. A large amount of the nutrients taken up from the soil by a banana plant goes into the fruits or bunch. Most of the banana fruits are sold to urban centres and they go with the nutrients especially in the peel. The way to maintain soil fertility is by regularly or continuously monitoring the soil using the planting experience of the farmer and by deploying “Smart Agro” technology in the fields and putting back nutrients in the form of fertilisers either organic or inorganic. If fertility is not maintained in this way, even the most fertile soils will gradually get depleted and become unproductive.

Bananas have a high demand for Nitrogen (N) and Potassium (K) to maintain high yields. Phosphorus (P), Magnesium (Mg) and Calcium (Ca) are vital but required in small quantities. These can be supplied by planting on fertile soils or applying fertilisers regularly. These nutrient elements play different roles. Nitrogen contributes to growth of a banana plant as a whole and keeps leaves green and healthy thus able to capture more sunlight to make more fruits or big bunches. Phosphorus helps the banana plant to have strong and healthy roots that will capture more water and nutrients in the soil. Potassium helps in moving the food and water from roots to leaves and bunches. Magnesium helps the leaves to use the sunlight captured to make food. Farmers commonly use farmyard or compost manure. Well rotted manure is placed in planting holes or on the soil surface.


If the supply of nutrients is insufficient, production decreases and coffee may be affected by die back. Unlike legumes, which require phosphorus (P), and cereals, which require nitrogen (N) and phosphorus, both banana and coffee need large amounts of potassium (K) as well as phosphorus and nitrogen. Deficiencies of the macronutrients nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and also sulphur, magnesium and calcium, and the mi­cronutrients zinc, boron and iron lead to the ap­pearance of leaf nutrient deficiency symptoms in banana and coffee that can be detected in the field.

The leaf canopy, root system and mulch provided by banana help to minimize soil losses and improve soil moisture conservation. Inter-cropped bananas and coffee require an adequate supply of nutrients from the soil, recycled crop residues that also provide mulch and mineral fertilizers. Banana and coffee need to be carefully managed by pruning the coffee trees and de-suckering the banana plants to maintain an optimal crop leaf canopy of both plants.

Inter-cropping banana and coffee reduces the risk faced by farmers. It is unlikely that both crops will be affected at the same time by pests, disease, or drought stress and market prices for both crops are unlikely to ‘crash’ simultaneously.

Pests and Diseases

Pests and diseases can damage roots, stem and leaves of plants thereby affecting uptake of nutrients and water from the soil, movement within the plant and photosynthesis. Pests and diseases can also damage the fruits directly. The most important pests for banana are weevils, which damage the corm, and nematodes which damage the roots. For coffee, some of the most important pests are coffee berry borer, antesia bugs, twig borers, scales, stem borers and mealybugs, which can attack aerial parts of the plant or roots. The best way of controlling pests and diseases is by use of ‘integrated pest management’ (IPM), a combination of management practices together with the use of resistant varieties.

Smart Agro Solutions

Many aspects of agriculture production benefit from the optimum and efficient use of resources like manpower, energy, nutrients, and water. ‘Smart Agro’ Systems help enable these steps by providing solutions for agriculture, plantation and farm automation, precision irrigation, tree tracking, pest and disease identification, and resource management. Automation, monitoring and remote management using sensors, IoT devices, cloud computing, and actuators provide the required data on ambient and soil parameters. The system gives all the necessary information on the health

It takes care of adaptive optimum automatic delivery of water and nutrients to plants and crops with conservation of natural resources.

‘Smart Agro’ Apps harnesses the power of IT, the internet cloud, knowledge management systems, and online expert advisory and discussion groups to aid in pest and disease identification and inter­ventions. It provides a learning and evolving smart system where an online community creates its own expert and peer networks and interest groups in which members collaborate with each other to identify damaging plant pests and diseases. By using mobile devices to share images of pests and disease conditions along with other related information, in­dividuals draw on the collective knowledge of their

networks to identify and take corrective actions. The process and information are documented and stored as records in a searchable database.

People working in the agricultural sector, especially in plantations need to identify plant pests and diseases every day during fieldwork and periodic inspections in order to make decisions about how to manage them. Many pests and diseases are difficult to identify and the persons who find them in the field are often not well versed or knowledgeable enough and usually a long way from the experts who can help with identification. The longer it takes to identify a pest the more damage it is likely to cause. Delays in identification can affect our ability to eradicate or contain the pest. The same applies for disease identification and interventions to eliminate them.

Padivayal Enterprise www.padivayal.com promotes the use of innovative emerging technology based smart solutions through its “V-PAD” and “IoT-A” platform products and devices, bespoke services and support programs. ‘Smart Agro’ technologies are currently being implemented at Kusumam (J), Ketharam and Padivayal-V Estates owned by Dr. K. Janardanan, Mrs. A.K. Nalini, both octo­genarians, and the author in Padivayal, Wayanad, Kerala, India. All these estates were earlier a part of the erstwhile Padivayal Plantations, established in 1929, a pioneer in growing plantation crops mainly coffee, pepper and spices with several inter-crops in Wayanad.

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