A new Freestone Peach orchard intercropped with corn in Klickitat County, south central Washington.
Inga Spence

A new Freestone Peach orchard intercropped with corn in Klickitat County, south central Washington. Tree intercropping systems are widely adopted by tropical smallholders, but are also practiced on millions of hectares of cropland in highly mechanized regions of China and Europe.

Tree Intercropping

Support SinksLand SinksShift Agriculture Practices
CO2 Equivalent
Reduced / Sequestered
Billion $US
Net First Cost
(To Implement Solution)
Trillion $US
Lifetime Net
Operational Savings
Billion $US
Net Profit
Growing trees and annual crops together is a form of agroforestry. Tree intercropping practices vary, but all increase biomass, soil organic matter, and carbon sequestration.

Solution Summary*

Like all regenerative land-use practices, tree intercropping—intermingling trees and crops—increases the carbon content of the soil and productivity of the land. The arrangement of trees and crops varies with topography, culture, climate, and crop value, but there are common benefits:

  • Windbreaks reduce erosion and create habitat for birds and pollinators.
  • Fast-growing annuals, susceptible to being flattened by wind and rain, can be protected.
  • Deep-rooted plants can draw up minerals and nutrients for shallow-rooted ones.
  • Light-sensitive crops can be protected from excess sunlight.

Tree intercropping has many variations. Alley cropping is a system in which trees or hedges are planted in closely spaced rows to fertilize the crops grown between. Parkland systems are a discontinuous cover of scattered trees. There are many others, and most are beautiful—chili peppers and coffee, coconut and marigolds, walnuts and corn, citrus and eggplant, olives and barley, teak and taro, oak and lavender. The possible combinations are endless.

Plowed under during the twentieth century to make room for industrialized methods of farming, tree intercropping is one of dozens of techniques that can create an agricultural renaissance—a transformation of food-growing practices that bring people, regeneration, and abundance back to the land.

* excerpted from the book, Drawdown

Accounting for different sequestration rates across regions and intercropping systems, we estimate total sequestration of 15.0–24.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide over 30 years. To achieve that impact, adoption of tree intercropping would need to grow to 416–490 million hectares globally. On an initial investment of $147–227 billion and lifetime operational costsof $698–1080 billion, the potential profit, inclusive of those costs, could be as high as US$262–428 billion.